Oct 172018
 
 October 17, 2018  Posted by at 9:28 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


Georgia O’Keeffe Autumn leaves, Lake George 1924

 

Fed Minutes May Unlock Details About Jerome Powell’s Ultimate Plan (Y!)
China May Have $6 Trillion Of Unreported Local Government Debt – S&P (CNBC)
Jamal Khashoggi’s Killing Took Seven Minutes – Turkish Source (MEE)
Sears Didn’t ‘Die.’ Vulture Capitalists Killed It. (Kuttner)
On Theresa May, Danny DeVito and ‘Other People’s Money’ (Pettifor)
Britain Fell For A Neoliberal Con Trick – Even The IMF Says So (G.)
Venezuela Drops US Dollar, Will Use Euro For International Transactions (RT)
The World Will Soon Start Talking Like Trump (FP)
Supreme Court To Hear Case Linked To Who Social Media Can Censor (CNBC)
Record Number of Older Australians are in Financial Trouble. (ABC.au)
UK Restaurants And Cafes Throw Out 320 Million Fresh Meals A Year (G.)
Nature Will Need Up To 5 Million Years To Fill The Gaps Caused By Man (Ind.)

 

 

Trump’s discomfort is still understandable.

Fed Minutes May Unlock Details About Jerome Powell’s Ultimate Plan (Y!)

Wednesday’s minutes of the Federal Reserve’s September meeting, released at 2 p.m. ET, may reveal more details about the pacing of the central bank’s rate hikes, which have rattled investors and President Trump over the past week. Trump has repeatedly criticized the Fed in recent days, calling it “crazy” and “too cute” in various media interviews. Investors seemed to largely agree with this characterization — and sent the Dow Jones Industrial Average down over 1,300 points over a few trading sessions last week, as higher interest rates make stocks less attractive. The Fed has raised interest rates three times this year and has telegraphed a fourth hike as soon as December.

But Danielle DiMartino Booth, a former Federal Reserve advisor and CEO of Quill Intelligence, doesn’t expect Wednesday’s minutes to reflect the market’s recent worry over interest rates. “With Jay Powell, we have seen clean minutes,” she told Yahoo Finance, describing the minutes as a summation of the Fed’s thinking at the time of the September meeting. She said former Fed chairs Ben Bernanke and Janet Yellen used to massage the minutes if they needed to update their outlook in the weeks following the Fed’s last statement. [..] A lot has occurred since the September 25-26 meeting, including a steep rise in bond yields and last week’s aforementioned market turmoil. “[Last week’s market] declines won’t cause Powell to push the panic button,” Booth said. “If you look at the past few trading sessions, much of the declines have reversed.”

Read more …

The shadows. Not under Xi’s control.

China May Have $6 Trillion Of Unreported Local Government Debt – S&P (CNBC)

Unreported Chinese local government debt may amount to trillions of U.S. dollars, meaning the country’s debt-to-GDP ratio has hit “alarming” levels, S&P Global Ratings said in a report released Tuesday. The analysts noted a large gap between reported investment in local infrastructure and funding, as permitted by central authorities. As a result, the actual level of off-balance sheet debt could be several times more than what is publicly disclosed and range as high as 30 trillion yuan to 40 trillion yuan, or about $4.34 trillion to $5.78 trillion, credit analysts Gloria Lu, Laura Li and their team said in the report.

“And that’s a debt iceberg with titanic credit risks,” they added, estimating that the ratio of all government debt to GDP was 60 percent last year. To encourage economic growth in the region, local governments in China have invested heavily in infrastructure, often using financing structures known as “local government financing vehicles,” or LGFVs. Details about their size or nature tend to be unclear, and the S&P analysts said much of the hidden debt is in those vehicles. Beijing has been trying to move financing away from off-balance sheet sources, but has had limited success so far. In the future, S&P Global Ratings expects authorities will allow more defaults in local government financing vehicles, the report said.

Read more …

Very graphic. There was no botched kidnapping, and no rogue elements. Find a new line. It doesn’t look like this story can be stopped anymore. Turkey keeps leaking details.

Jamal Khashoggi’s Killing Took Seven Minutes – Turkish Source (MEE)

It took seven minutes for Jamal Khashoggi to die, a Turkish source who has listened in full to an audio recording of the Saudi journalist’s last moments told Middle East Eye. Khashoggi was dragged from the Consul General’s office at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul and onto the table of his study next door, the Turkish source said. Horrendous screams were then heard by a witness downstairs, the source said. “The consul himself was taken out of the room. There was no attempt to interrogate him. They had come to kill him,” the source told MEE. The screaming stopped when Khashoggi – who was last seen entering the Saudi consulate on 2 October – was injected with an as yet unknown substance.

Salah Muhammad al-Tubaigy, who has been identified as the head of forensic evidence in the Saudi general security department, was one of the 15-member squad who arrived in Ankara earlier that day on a private jet. Tubaigy began to cut Khashoggi’s body up on a table in the study while he was still alive, the Turkish source said. The killing took seven minutes, the source said. As he started to dismember the body, Tubaigy put on earphones and listened to music. He advised other members of the squad to do the same. “When I do this job, I listen to music. You should do [that] too,” Tubaigy was recorded as saying, the source told MEE. A three-minute version of the audio tape has been given to Turkish newspaper Sabah, but they have yet to release it.

Read more …

Killing companies and cutting 100s of 1000s of jobs is perfectly legal.

Sears Didn’t ‘Die.’ Vulture Capitalists Killed It. (Kuttner)

If you’ve been following the impending bankruptcy of America’s iconic retailer as covered by print, broadcast and digital media, you’ve probably encountered lots of nostalgia and sad clucking about how dinosaurs like Sears can’t compete in the age of Amazon and specialty retail. But most of the coverage has failed to stress the deeper story. Namely, Sears is a prime example of how hedge funds and private equity companies take over retailers, encumber them with debt in order to pay themselves massive windfall profits, and then leave the retailer without adequate operating capital to compete. Part of the strategy is to sell off valuable real estate, the better to enrich the hedge fund, and stick the retail company with costly rental payments to occupy the space that it once owned.

In the case of Sears, the culprit is a hedge-fund operator named Edward Lampert, once a senior merger guy at Goldman Sachs. In 2005, Lampert merged Sears with Kmart, loaded both up with debt, and used some of the debt on stock buybacks to pump up the share price and enrich shareholders, notably himself and his hedge fund. In a decade, 175,000 people at Sears/Kmart lost their jobs and revenue was cut in half. Various pieces of Sears were sold off. Lampert did just fine. Lampert’s hedge fund also became a prime a lender to Sears, making money off of commissions and interest charges as well as being a prime shareholder. The strategy ensures that the fund and its beneficiaries (including Lampert himself) get rich, even if they run Sears into the ground.

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“..at a time of private economic failure, it is vital for government to borrow and spend..”

On Theresa May, Danny DeVito and ‘Other People’s Money’ (Pettifor)

PEF Council member Ann Pettifor explains how all governments finance their spending (and its not from taxation). She deconstructs Theresa May’s address to the Conservative Party Conference with its deliberate framing of Labour governments as tax raiders. The use of the phrase “other people’s money” was not accidental. It was first used in the title of a famous work (1973) by Donald R. Cressy about the social psychology of embezzlement. The book was later made into a movie about a corrupt corporate raider, and starred Danny de Vito and Gregory Peck. Mrs May’s speech writer wanted to imply that Labour governments are tax raiders.

That is both a calumny, but also a lie – twice over. First because no Labour government has ever run out of money – not even Clement Attlee’s which started life with public debt at 250% of national income, and then spent enormous sums creating the NHS, affordable housing, a public education system etc. As a result of that spending, public debt as a share of GDP fell precipitously, because the Labour government increased the nation’s income, through well-paid employment. Good, well-paid employment in turn generated tax revenues – to pay for the borrowing, and pay down the public debt.

Second, no government – including today’s Conservative government – finances spending from taxation. Instead governments finance spending by borrowing from their own Bank, the Bank of England, or from capital markets. If that borrowing creates employment and increases income, then tax revenues accrue to HMRC, and is used to pay for the borrowing. To keep the public finances balanced at a time of private economic failure, it is vital for government to borrow and spend, to expand the nation’s income and thereby to generate the tax revenues needed to repay the borrowing, and keep the public finances in order.

Read more …

Most of the world has.

Britain Fell For A Neoliberal Con Trick – Even The IMF Says So (G.)

I want to address the most stubborn belief of all: that running a small state is the soundest financial arrangement for governments and voters alike. Because 40 years on from the Thatcher revolution, more and more evidence is coming in to the contrary. Let’s start with the IMF itself. Last week it published a report that barely got a mention from the BBC or in Westminster, yet helps reframe the entire debate over austerity. The fund totted up both the public debt and the publicly owned assets of 31 countries, from the US to Australia, Finland to France, and found that the UK had among the weakest public finances of the lot. With less than £3 trillion of assets against £5tn in pensions and other liabilities, the UK is more than £2tn in the red. Of all the other countries examined by researchers, including the Gambia and Kenya, only Portugal’s finances look worse over the long run. So much for fixing the roof.

Almost as startling are the IMF’s reasons for why Britain is in such a state: one way or another they all come back to neoliberalism. Thatcher loosed finance from its shackles and used our North Sea oil money to pay for swingeing tax cuts. The result is an overfinancialised economy and a government that is £1tn worse off since the banking crash. Norway has similar North Sea wealth and a far smaller population, but also a sovereign wealth fund. Its net worth has soared over the past decade. The other big reason for the UK’s financial precarity is its privatisation programme, described by the IMF as no less than a “fiscal illusion”. British governments have flogged nearly everything in the cupboard, from airports to the Royal Mail – often at giveaway prices – to friends in the City. Such privatisations, judge the fund, “increase revenues and lower deficits but also reduce the government’s asset holdings”.

Read more …

If they are successful others may follow.

Venezuela Drops US Dollar, Will Use Euro For International Transactions (RT)

Venezuela is abandoning the US dollar, with all future transactions on the Venezuelan exchange market to be made in euro, Tareck El Aissami, the country’s Vice President for Economy, announced. The sanctions, recently introduced by Washington against Caracas, “block the possibility of continuing to trade using the US dollar on the Venezuelan exchange market,” El Aissami said, adding that the American restrictions were “illegal and against international law.” The American “financial blockade” of Venezuela affects both the country’s public and private sectors, including pharmacy and agriculture, and shows “just how far the imperialism can go in its madness,” the vice president said.

Venezuela’s floating exchange rate system, Dicom, “will be operating in euro, yuan or any other convertible currency and will allow the foreign exchange market to use any other convertible currency,” El Aissami said. The vice president added that all private banks in Venezuela are obliged to participate in the Dicom bidding system. The government is going to sell 2 billion euros between November and December to allow the public to purchase the European currency “at a real, non-speculative rate,” he said.

Read more …

The price of success?!

The World Will Soon Start Talking Like Trump (FP)

[..] no one doubts that Trump, through his surprise election victory and unprecedented approach to governance, has redefined political communication. For better or worse, every future president and presidential candidate will seek to learn from, and at least partially emulate, Trump’s unique and successful methods in this. Because America often sets trends in political communication, we should also expect to see such Trumpian techniques adopted abroad as well. Of course, there is considerable disagreement about precisely what those techniques are and which aspects of them will endure and transfer into other campaigns. It is early days, but at least three aspects of Trumpian political communication are likely to endure.

The most obvious and most commented upon aspect of Trumpian communication is the president’s use of Twitter. Trump is quite simply addicted to the medium—and he has stuck to it despite warnings from his political advisors that it is unwise for a president to make unfiltered use of social media. [..] Trump [..] clearly values Twitter precisely because it provides him with direct access to voters, unencumbered by the press, advisors, the government bureaucracy, or even personal reflection. He provides breaking news on his feed not available elsewhere and provides insight into his thinking through tweets.

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Trump should do this.

Supreme Court To Hear Case Linked To Who Social Media Can Censor (CNBC)

The Supreme Court has agreed to hear a case that could determine whether users can challenge social media companies on free speech grounds. The case, Manhattan Community Access Corp. v. Halleck, No. 17-702, centers on whether a private operator of a public access television network is considered a state actor, which can be sued for First Amendment violations. The case could have broader implications for social media and other media outlets. In particular, a broad ruling from the high court could open the country’s largest technology companies up to First Amendment lawsuits.

That could shape the ability of companies like Facebook, Twitter and Alphabet’s Google to control the content on their platforms as lawmakers clamor for more regulation and activists on the left and right spar over issues related to censorship and harassment. The Supreme Court accepted the case on Friday. It is the first case taken by a reconstituted high court after Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation earlier this month. [..] On its face, the case has nothing to do with social media at all. Rather, the facts of the case concern public access television, and two producers who claim they were punished for expressing their political views.

The producers, DeeDee Halleck and Jesus Melendez, say that Manhattan Neighborhood Network suspended them for expressing views that were critical of the network. In making the argument to the justices that the case was worthy of review, attorneys for MNN said the court could use the case to resolve a lingering dispute over the power of social media companies to regulate the content on their platforms. [..] While the First Amendment is meant to protect citizens against government attempts to limit speech, there are certain situations in which private companies can be subject to First Amendment liability. Attorneys for MNN have made the case that social media companies are clearly not government actors. But in raising the question, they have provided the Supreme Court an opportunity to weigh in.

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Interest-only mortgages.

Record Number of Older Australians are in Financial Trouble. (ABC.au)

Financial helpline counsellors are at “capacity” with record numbers of older Australians struggling in poverty, but they still urge those experiencing debt distress to not hesitate to call. The National Debt Helpline — a federal government-run financial counselling service — said it’s on track to receive a record number of cases through its call centres this year — many from older Australians who can’t meet their mortgage or rent payments. “The phones just never stop now,” financial counsellor Greg said. “They’re just going day after day, after day. “You put the phone down, you pick the phone up again.”

[..] For the first time, the National Debt Helpline has started fielding calls from Australians struggling to switch from interest, to principal and interest mortgage payments. “We are seeing an increasing number of older Australians calling us,” Ms Cox said. “Very occasionally we’re still seeing people who have just been granted a very large mortgage, even though they’re in their 50s or 60s, and one that’s set to go for a 25 or 30-year term.” Those sorts of lending practices can lead older Australians down a financial rabbit hole. That is when sickness can creep in and marriages break down.

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Our economies run on waste.

UK Restaurants And Cafes Throw Out 320 Million Fresh Meals A Year (G.)

Almost 900,000 perfectly edible, freshly prepared meals end up in the bin in the UK every day, new figures reveal, because they haven’t been sold in time by restaurants and cafes. This means that more than 320m meals are thrown away by British food establishments every year – enough meals for everyone in the UK five times over, according to food waste app Too Good To Go. While consumers are increasingly aware of the food wasted in their homes and by supermarkets, waste by restaurants is still largely overlooked. Figures from the government’s food waste advisory body Wrap state that the problem costs UK businesses over £2.5m every week.

The app – which allows users to “rescue” surplus meals at a discounted price – is calling on more food businesses and consumers to join forces to help cut waste. “No one leaves the lights on when they leave the house,” said Hayley Conick, UK managing director at Too Good To Go. “Yet, whether it’s in restaurants, food shops or our own homes, we don’t think twice about throwing away perfectly good food.” Separately, Britons are being urged to help cut their food waste at home by setting their fridges to a colder temperature to make fresh milk and other chilled foods last longer. The advice from campaign group Love Food Hate Waste comes as a new survey revealed that half the UK population do not realise that their fridge should be set at below 5C to maximise its efficiency.

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Not a timeframe we can oversee. So not a call to action.

Nature Will Need Up To 5 Million Years To Fill The Gaps Caused By Man (Ind.)

Mankind has taken the world to the brink of a mass extinction that could wipe out vast swathes life on Earth for millions of years, scientists have warned in a new study. Humans are killing off animal and plant species so rapidly that evolution is unable to keep up to fill the gaps left behind, the work suggests. Unless conservation efforts are stepped up, nature will require between three and five million years to recover the levels of biodiversity expected to be lost over the next 50 years, predicted researchers. There have been five previous mass extinctions in the past 450 million years, and scientists have warned climate change, poaching, pollution and habitat destruction are bringing about a sixth.

More than 300 mammal species have been eradicated by human activity, according to researchers at Aarhus University in Denmark and the University of Gothenburg. More are likely to follow them into extinction in the next few decades. [..] Instead of simply counting lost or threatened species, the study considered the amount of time each had spent evolving to reflect. The extinction of species with distinct lineages and few close relatives meant the loss of “unique ecological functions and the millions of years of evolutionary history they represented”, researchers said.

“Large mammals, or megafauna, such as giant sloths and sabre-toothed tigers, which became extinct about 10,000 years ago, were highly evolutionarily distinct,” said Aarhus University palaeontologist Matt Davis, who led the study. “Since they had few close relatives, their extinctions meant that entire branches of Earth’s evolutionary tree were chopped off.” Researchers suggested threatened mammals with long evolutionary histories should be prioritised for conversation. They highlighted Asian elephants, one of only two existing species of a once mighty mammalian order that included mammoths and mastodon, and which are said to have just a 33-per-cent chance of surviving the century.

Read more …

Oct 092018
 
 October 9, 2018  Posted by at 1:03 pm Primers Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


Pieter Bruegel the Elder Two monkeys 1562

 

And there we go again. Another IPCC report, and they all keep getting more alarming than the previous one. And then nothing substantial happens. Until the next report is issued and makes everybody’s headlines for a day, or two. Rinse, spin and repeat. “Now we really have to do something!”. “World leaders have a moral obligation to act!”.

Oh boy. To start with that last bit, world leaders don’t act because of moral obligations. They act to stay in, or get in, power. And they all know that to achieve that goal they must keep their people happy, even if dictators do this differently from ‘democratically elected’ leaders.

The first tool they have for this is control of the media, control of the narratives that define -or seem to- their societies. If a society is in bad shape, they will control the media to show that it is doing fine. if it’s actually doing fine, they will make sure all the praise for this is theirs and theirs alone.

So what makes their people happy? One thing far ahead of anything else is material comfort. If leaders can’t convince people that they’re comfortable, their power is in danger. Once enough people are miserable or hungry, a process is set in motion that threatens to push leaders aside in favor of someone who promises to make things better. There’s never a shortage of those.

 

Leaders, politicians, think short-term. They may see further into the future than the next election, but that is not useful information. If they enact measures aimed at 10 years from today or more, they risk being voted out in 2 years, or 4. It’s not even their fault, it’s how the system works. It is different for dictators, but not even that much.

The general notion is clear. But that means we can’t rely on our leaders to act against the climate change the IPCC keeps warning of. because is has a -much- longer time window than the next elections -or the next coup in dictator terms. Even if every IPCC report depicts a shorter window than the last one, it’s still not inside those 4-year election cycles (numbers vary slightly, 4 is typical).

A typical ‘response’ to the climate threat are the COP meetings and agreements. I have fulminated plenty against COP21, the Paris accord, even named it CON21. Because that was signed by those very leaders tied down in their election cycles. Completely useless. That most of the other signees were business leaders who represent oil companies, airlines and Big Tech with huge server parks seals the reality of the deal.

These are not the people who will solve the problems. They have too much interest in not doing so. The CEO’s have their profits to think about, the politicians their elections. They should be kept out of the decision-making process. But they’re the only ones who are in it.

I still think the issue was never better epitomized than in the December 2016 piece in the Guardian by Michael Bloomberg and Mark Carney entitled “How To Make A Profit From Defeating Climate Change” , about which I said at the time:

These fine gents probably actually believe that this is perfectly in line with our knowledge of, say, human history, of evolution, of the laws of physics, and of -mass- psychology. All of which undoubtedly indicate to them that we can and will defeat the problems we have created -and still are-, literally with the same tools and ideas -money and profit- that we use to create them with. Nothing ever made more sense.

That these problems originated in the same relentless quest for profit that they now claim will help us get rid of them, is likely a step too far for them; must have been a class they missed. “We destroyed it for profit” apparently does not in their eyes contradict “we’ll fix it for profit too”. Not one bit. It does, though. It’s indeed the very core of what is going wrong.

Profit, or money in general, is all these people live for, it’s their altar. That’s why they are successful in this world. It’s also why the world is doomed. Is there any chance I could persuade you to dwell on that for a few seconds? That, say, Bloomberg and Carney, and all they represent, are the problem dressed up as the solution?

This week’s IPCC report says the efforts to keep warming at acceptable levels (1.5ºC) will cost many trillions of dollars every year. But a billionaire publisher and a central bank head want to make a profit?! Hey, perhaps they can, as long as you and I pay… But they won’t solve a thing. if only because not doing that will be too profitable. Still, while they’re at it, maybe they can do us a favor.

You see, what is hardly ever mentioned, let alone acknowledged, is that we have more than one major existential problem, and they exist in such a form of symbiosis that solving only one doesn’t make much difference.

We have a changing climate, we have accelerating species extinction, we have plastics in our fish, and we have a global economy that’s about to topple over. The common thread in all these is an overkill in energy use and therefore an overkill in waste. Thermodynamics, 2nd law. Waste kills. By raising temperatures, finishing off wildlife, plugging rivers and oceans with plastics, making increasing amounts of people economically miserable.

But as I wrote a while ago, our economies exist to produce waste, it’s not just a by-product -anymore-. If we stop making things we don’t need, and things that do harm to our world and our lives, our economies will collapse. We must continue on our path or see our lifetstyles plummet. They will anyway, we’re just delaying the inevitable, but we’re stuck.

And politicians are utterly useless and utterly unfit in situations like this. But ask yourself: are you any better? If you were told that in order to ‘save the planet’, you’d have to cut your energy use in half, which would take away many of your comforts and luxuries, would you do it?

A better question yet is, if you would agree to do that, and then see that your neighbor does not, would you still cut your driving and flying and electricity? That’s hard enough on an individual level, but how about if one nation does, while another refuses? Or when nations that have much lower per capita energy consumption tell the West: you go first?

 

What do you think the odds are that we’ll find a global solution, approach, before the 2030 cutoff date the IPCC provides in its latest report? While the likes of Bloomberg and Carney still talk about climate change as a profit opportunity? I know what I think.

The report says we need to drastically ‘reform’ our economies and lifestyles. Cutting our energy use in the West in half won’t be enough, if only because billions of people demand more energy at their disposal. Will you cut into your lifestyle, will your children, when they see their neighbors increasing their energy use, when they see entire nations increase theirs?

We don’t have ‘leaders’ that can stop species extinction or a warming planet or an economic collapse, because they either are clueless or they will be voted out of power if they tell the truth. Extend and pretend is a term that’s used to describe economic policies a lot, but it actually paints an accurate picture of everything we do.

“Free”, surplus, energy can come in the shape of sugar in a petri dish full of bacteria, or of stored carbon on planet earth. In both cases, the outcome is as predictable as can be. Can we, with our billions of cars and billions of miles flown every year, and billions of phones and computers, return to the energy use of only 100 years ago? Don’t think so.

On the contrary, we’re constantly increasing our energy consumption. Just like the bacteria do in the petri dish. Until they no longer can, until reality, physics, thermodynamics, sets a limit. One of my favorite themes is that we are the most tragic species ever because we can see ourselves doing things that we know are harmful to us, but we can’t stop ourselves from continuing.

The best we can hope for is that tomorrow morning everything will be the same again as where we started today. But no, that’s not sufficient, either, many of the things we’ve unleashed have 20+ year runtimes, and they’re already baked into the cake of our futures. We can’t start afresh every morning, no Groundhog Day for us. Every morning the alarm goes off things have gotten worse. And we can’t stop that.

 

 

Sep 172018
 


René Magritte Companions of fear 1942

 

Repo 105 (Ben Hunt)
The Everything Bubble” Threatens $400 Trillion In Assets (ZH)
What Can Cause the Next Mortgage Crisis in the US? (WS)
Dollar Dominant & Dangerous, System Not Stable – Catherine Austin Fitts (USAW)
Shell Faces One Of The Biggest Corruption Cases In Corporate History (Ind.)
Only Alternative To Chequers Is No Brexit Deal, Says Theresa May (G.)
Brussels Nearing Impasse With May Over Irish Border Proposal (G.)
Four In 10 Think British Culture Is Undermined By Multiculturalism (G.)
Musk Says Tesla Now In ‘Delivery Logistics Hell’ (R.)
The EU Needs A Stability And Wellbeing Pact, Not More Growth (G.)
7 Endangered Species That Could (Almost) Fit In A Single Train Carriage (G.)

 

 

Lehman sold bad loans to banks for a fee so it could look better, only to buy them back days later. It was very basic fraud. And Dick Fuld walked away.

Repo 105 (Ben Hunt)

Every time Dick Fuld’s publicists succeed in getting a “redemption story” published in the Wall Street Journal or New York Times, I’m going to write an Epsilon Theory brief about Repo 105, the fraudulent scheme that Lehman Brothers ran for years to hide its deteriorating financial condition from investors and regulators alike.

[..] Repo 105 was a multiyear scheme by Lehman to defraud the government and its own investors by falsifying the actual amount of loans it had on the books, making Lehman look safer than it actually was. It worked like this. A few days before the end of the calendar quarter, Lehman would “sell” billions of dollars worth of loans to another bank. I put “sell” in quotation marks, because Lehman ALSO had an agreement with these other banks to buy the loans back a few days after the quarter ended for the same price as they were sold, plus enough money to cover whatever the going interest rate was on that cash for the few days it was in Lehman’s hands. This is what’s called a repurchase agreement, or repo, hence the name Repo 105 (the 105 refers to the 5% overcollateralization that counterparty banks required to lend the cash to Lehman even for a few days – THEY knew Lehman was in trouble).

Since financial reporting happens at the end of the quarter, Lehman’s books would look like they had more cash and fewer loans than they actually did. Surely, you say, no law firm would bless this blatant attempt to cook the books? And I say, don’t call me Shirley. I say, well … no US law firm would bless this, so naturally Lehman found a UK firm, Linklaters, to say that this was, in fact, technically a “true sale”. Even then, to pull this off Lehman had to run Repo 105 through their offshore subsidiaries, not through their US-chartered entities. It was really expensive for Lehman to run Repo 105. But also entirely necessary, or else the entire house of cards that WAS Lehman would have collapsed well before September, 2008.

Read more …

Risk. It’s back.

The Everything Bubble” Threatens $400 Trillion In Assets (ZH)

By now, it’s a very familiar question: how high can the Fed hike rates before it causes a major market “event.” Two weeks ago, Stifel analyst Barry Banister became the latest to issue a timeline on how many more rate hikes the Fed can push through before the market is finally impacted. According to his calculations, just two more rate hikes would put the central bank above the neutral rate – the interest rate that neither stimulates nor holds back the economy. The Fed’s long-term projection of its policy rate has risen from 2.8% at the end of 2017 to 2.9% in June. As the following chart, every time this has happened, a bear market has inevitably followed.

A similar argument was made recently by both Deutsche Bank and Bank of America, which in two parallel analyses observed last year that every Fed tightening cycle tends to end in a crisis. In a report issued on Friday, BCA’s strategists make the key point that the performance of bonds – and stocks – in an inflation scare would depend on the relative size of the inflationary impulse compared with the disinflationary impulse that resulted from sharply lower risk-asset prices. They make the point that if central banks were more concerned about the inflationary impulse, which at least for Fed chair Powell appears to be the case for now – Janet Yellen’s “lower for longer revised forward guidance” notwithstanding – they would have to keep tightening – in which case, bond yields would be liberated to reach elevated territory.

Conversely, if the bigger worry was the disinflationary impulse, which arguably is the case from a legacy standpoint, central banks would quickly reverse course, and bond yields would return to the lowlands. Thus, the disinflationary impulse from lower risk-asset prices would end up as the bigger issue. [..] BCA estimates that the total value of global risk-assets is $400 trillion, equal to about five times the size of the global economy. The takeaway is that any inflationary impulse would – through higher bond yields – undermine the valuation support of global risk-assets that are worth several times the size of the global economy.

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“In a rising housing market, delinquencies will always be low but are not an indicator of future default risks. But home prices are an indicator of default risk.”

What Can Cause the Next Mortgage Crisis in the US? (WS)

Mortgage delinquencies at all commercial banks in the US inched down to 3.14% in the second quarter, the lowest since Q2 2007, according to the Federal Reserve. But after those soothingly low delinquency rates in 2007, something happened. By Q3 2008, the delinquency rate hit 5.2%, and in Q4 2009, it went over 10%, and stayed in the double-digits until Q1 2013. This was the mortgage crisis. And we’re a million miles away from it, thank God. Or are we? This chart compares home prices in the US (green, left scale) to delinquency rates (red, right scale). Delinquency rates started surging after home prices started falling. The inflection point is marked by the vertical purple line, labeled “it starts”:

Home prices began falling in 2006. By 2008, some homeowners were seriously “underwater” – they owed more on their house than the house was worth. When they ran into financial trouble because they were in over their heads, or because one of the breadwinners in the household lost their jobs, or because they’d lied on their mortgage application and never had enough income to begin with, or because they were investors who couldn’t make the math work out anymore, or whatever, they were stuck. In a rising housing market, they would just sell the home and pay off the mortgage. But they couldn’t sell their home because it was worth less than the mortgage, and default was the only option. The chart above shows the relationship between home prices and delinquencies. In a rising housing market, delinquencies will always be low but are not an indicator of future default risks. But home prices are an indicator of default risk.

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“The U.S. government is “missing” $21 trillion between the DOD and HUD.”

Dollar Dominant & Dangerous, System Not Stable – Catherine Austin Fitts (USAW)

Investment advisor and former Assistant Secretary of Housing, Catherine Austin Fitts, predicts the global financial system “will take some big hits before the end of the year.” Fitts explains, “Right now, economists say the dollar is ‘dangerous and dominant.’ It’s still, if you look at the market shares around the world, it’s still very, very significant portion of total reserves. So, it’s still very important. At the same time, the U.S. dollar hegemony is probably not going to last forever . . . So, I think the long term dollar looks very weak. Short term, it doesn’t look like it’s coming apart anytime soon, as far as I can see. What that means is when you have something that is dangerous and dominant, you have the possibility of extreme volatility events.

That’s the new code word for the ‘you know what’ hits the, you know what. Whether it’s different countries exploding economically, or we whether are pressuring people that makes them very uncomfortable, these kinds of fights over shrinking pies are very dangerous because they mean covert wars. They mean overt wars, and the more we steal pies from each other instead of make new pies, the worse the situation gets. That’s what you are seeing. The system is not stable.” [..] There is good reason people are going to real assets. The U.S. government is “missing” $21 trillion between the DOD and HUD. This fact was uncovered by Fitts and economist Dr. Mark Skidmore last year.

What was the government’s answer to this gigantic accounting fraud that is the size of the federal deficit? Give the government’s budgets basically classified national security status. Fitts says, “Apparently, the people leading the audit have come to them and said if we do this audit, we will disclose classified projects. So, the board (Federal Accounting Standards Advisory Board – FASAB) came out with a new policy. I say it is illegal. You cannot do it under the financial management laws, and you certainly cannot do it under the Constitution, and it said you can keep classified off the books, which means you can cook the books and you can basically do whatever you want.

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What was that about reality and fiction?

Shell Faces One Of The Biggest Corruption Cases In Corporate History (Ind.)

Giant oil companies, offshore accounts, ex-MI6 agents, champagne lunches, a former Nigerian president and allegations of one of the biggest bribes ever paid – the corruption case against Shell and Italy’s Eni filed by prosecutors in Milan over a shady $1.3bn deal for a vast African oil field has all the elements of an espionage thriller. The latest twists thicken the plot further with a cache of documents seized in a raid on a Swiss financier’s apartment that could be crucial to the case, leaving prosecutors in a race against time to get them to Milan as trial hearings get underway this week. The Geneva raid uncovered a briefcase belonging to Emeka Obi, a middleman who received millions of dollars from the deal and is in the dock along with several senior Shell and Eni executives.

Inside the briefcase, Swiss prosecutors found a laptop, two Nigerian passports, five sim cards and a hard drive containing 41,000 documents that prosecutors believe could be crucial to the trial playing out on the other side of the Alps. The stakes are high. Italian prosecutors allege that, of the total $1.3bn fee paid by Shell and Eni for the oil field, $1.1bn went not into the coffers of the Nigerian state but the accounts of former oil minister Dan Etete who then distributed hundreds of millions to well-connected individuals, including former president Goodluck Jonathan. The amount distributed as bribes is more than the entire Nigerian healthcare budget for 2018, in a country where 87 million people live in extreme poverty – more than any other country on earth.

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She’s stuck. Dangerous position.

Only Alternative To Chequers Is No Brexit Deal, Says Theresa May (G.)

May said: “I believe we will get a good deal. We will bring that back from the EU negotiations and put that to parliament. I think that the alternative to that will be not having a deal.” The Chequers plan prompted the resignations of David Davis and Boris Johnson. May tried again to remake the case for it by claiming the other options put forward by the EU were unacceptable. “The European Union had basically put two offers on the table. Either the UK stays in the single market and the customs union – effectively in the EU – that would have betrayed the vote of the British people,” she said.

“Or, on the other side, a basic free trade agreement but carving Northern Ireland out and effectively keeping Northern Ireland in the European Union and Great Britain out. That would have broken up the United Kingdom, or could have broken up the United Kingdom. Both of those were unacceptable to the UK. “We said ‘no’ … we’re going to put our own proposal forward and that’s what Chequers is about … It unblocked the negotiations.”

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Preparing to blame the EU for failing.

Brussels Nearing Impasse With May Over Irish Border Proposal (G.)

The EU is proving unable to convince Theresa May that by using “trusted trader schemes” and technology its proposal to in effect keep Northern Ireland in the customs union and single market will not draw a border in the Irish sea. The Brexit negotiations have reached an impasse over the failure to find an acceptable solution to avoiding a hard border on the island of Ireland after the UK leaves the EU. The solution proposed by Brussels in which Northern Ireland has a different status from the rest of the UK has been rejected by the prime minister as involving the economic and constitutional “dislocation” of the country. The EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, has nevertheless repeatedly insisted that the issue can be “de-dramatised”.

Barnier has sought to show that the level of trade between Belfast and the rest of the UK is minimal, and that the checks that would be required do not pose a constitutional threat to the British government. But according to what is described as a diplomatic note seen by the Times, the EU is struggling to convince the UK that it is significant that checks at a border could be avoided entirely for many companies through trusted trade schemes. The diplomatic note, said to have been drafted following a meeting of EU ambassadors last Wednesday with Barnier’s deputy, Sabine Weyand, reports that the UK has not been “helpful” over the issue. The note says: “The biggest unsolved problem is Northern Ireland. There is a political mobilisation in the UK in this regard. Therefore, we are trying to clarify the EU position. The controls or checks only have to be organised in a way that would not endanger the EU single market.”

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How about you start by picking your own strawberries?

Four In 10 Think British Culture Is Undermined By Multiculturalism (G.)

A large minority of people in the UK believe multiculturalism has undermined British culture and that migrants do not properly integrate, according to some of the broadest research into the population’s attitudes to immigration. The study, conducted over the last two years, also reflects widespread frustration at the government’s handling of immigration, with only 15% of respondents feeling ministers have managed it competently and fairly. On balance, the UK population appears to be slightly more positive than negative about the impact of immigration; however, 40% of respondents agreed that having a wide variety of backgrounds has undermined British culture. More than a quarter of people believe MPs never tell the truth about immigration and half the population wants to see a reduction in the numbers of low-skilled workers coming into Britain from the EU.

The study was based on a survey of 3,667 adults carried out in June by ICM, as well as 60 citizens’ panels carried out on behalf of the thinktank British Future and the anti-racism group Hope Not Hate. “The lack of trust we found in the government to manage immigration is quite shocking,” said Jill Rutter, the director of strategy for British Future. “People want to have their voices heard on the choices we make, and to hold their leaders to account on their promises. While people do want the UK government to have more control over who can come to the UK, most of them are ‘balancers’ – they recognise the benefits of migration to Britain, both economically and culturally, but also voice concerns about pressures on public services and housing.”

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“Should be solved shortly..”

Musk Says Tesla Now In ‘Delivery Logistics Hell’ (R.)

Tesla Inc’s Chief Executive Officer Elon Musk on Sunday acknowledged that the electric carmaker’s problems have now shifted to delivery logistics from production delays, the latest speed bump in its efforts to achieve profitability. “Sorry, we’ve gone from production hell to delivery logistics hell, but this problem is far more tractable. We’re making rapid progress. Should be solved shortly,” Musk said in a tweet here in response to a customer complaint on delivery delay. The 47-year-old billionaire who earlier this month faced investor ire over smoking marijuana on a live web show, has indicated in the past that Tesla’s customers may face a longer response time because of a significant increase in vehicle delivery volume in North America.

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238 academics signed. But it’s not the conversation we’ll have.

The EU Needs A Stability And Wellbeing Pact, Not More Growth (G.)

This week, scientists, politicians, and policymakers are gathering in Brussels for a landmark conference. The aim of this event, organised by members of the European parliament from five different political groups, alongside trade unions and NGOs, is to explore possibilities for a “post-growth economy” in Europe. For the past seven decades, GDP growth has stood as the primary economic objective of European nations. But as our economies have grown, so has our negative impact on the environment. We are now exceeding the safe operating space for humanity on this planet, and there is no sign that economic activity is being decoupled from resource use or pollution at anything like the scale required. Today, solving social problems within European nations does not require more growth. It requires a fairer distribution of the income and wealth that we already have.

Growth is also becoming harder to achieve due to declining productivity gains, market saturation, and ecological degradation. If current trends continue, there may be no growth at all in Europe within a decade. Right now the response is to try to fuel growth by issuing more debt, shredding environmental regulations, extending working hours, and cutting social protections. This aggressive pursuit of growth at all costs divides society, creates economic instability, and undermines democracy. Those in power have not been willing to engage with these issues, at least not until now. The European commission’s Beyond GDP project became GDP and Beyond. The official mantra remains growth — redressed as “sustainable”, “green”, or “inclusive” – but first and foremost, growth. Even the new UN sustainable development goals include the pursuit of economic growth as a policy goal for all countries, despite the fundamental contradiction between growth and sustainability.

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Another way to put it. You could easily do this for 70 species, or 700, 7000.

7 Endangered Species That Could (Almost) Fit In A Single Train Carriage (G.)

Some species are so close to extinction, that every remaining member can fit on a New York subway carriage (if they squeeze). All estimates come from the IUCN Red List, 2018.

 

 

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Sep 142018
 
 September 14, 2018  Posted by at 8:28 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  


Claude Monet The sheltered path 1888

 

The Bailouts for the Rich Are Why America Is So Screwed Right Now (Stoller)
Ten Years After the Crash, We’ve Learned Nothing (Taibbi)
Millions Of Americans Trapped In Underwater Homes 10 Years After Crisis (R.)
No-Deal Brexit Could Lead To Financial Crisis As Bad As 2008 – Carney (Ind.)
Europe’s Top Rights Court Rules Against Britain Over Mass Surveillance (AFP)
S&P Sees Major Opportunity In China’s $11 Trillion Bond Market (CNBC)
China Says World Trade System Not Perfect, Needs Reform (R.)
‘Little Mussolinis’: EU Chief Angers Italy With Comment On Far Right (R.)
Third Of Earth’s Surface Must Be Protected To Prevent Mass Extinction (Ind.)
Hurricane Florence Deluges Carolinas Ahead Of Landfall (R.)

 

 

And there are different ways…

The Bailouts for the Rich Are Why America Is So Screwed Right Now (Stoller)

In 1933, when FDR took power, global banking was essentially non-functional. Bankers had committed widespread fraud on top of a rickety and poorly structured financial system. Herbert Hoover, who organized an initial bailout by establishing what was known as the Reconstruction Finance Corporation, was widely mocked for secretly sending money to Republican bankers rather than ordinary people. The new administration realized that trust in the system was essential. One of the first things Roosevelt did, even before he took office, was to embarrass powerful financiers. He did this by encouraging the Senate Banking Committee to continue its probe, under investigator Ferdinand Pecora, of the most powerful institutions on Wall Street, which were National City (now Citibank) and JP Morgan.

Pecora exposed these institutions as nests of corruption. The Senate Banking Committee made public Morgan’s “preferred list,” which was the group of powerful and famous people who essentially got bribes from Morgan. It included the most important men in the country, like former Republican President Calvin Coolidge, a Supreme Court Justice, important CEOs and military leaders, and important Democrats, too. Roosevelt also ordered his attorney general “vigorously to prosecute any violations of the law” that emerged from the investigations. New Dealers felt that “if the people become convinced that the big violators are to be punished it will be helpful in restoring confidence.” The DOJ indicted National City’s Charles Mitchell for tax evasion.

This was part of a series of aggressive attacks on the old order of corrupt political and economic elites. The administration pursued these cases, often losing the criminal complaints but continuing with civil charges. This bought the Democrats the trust of the public. When Roosevelt engaged in his own broad series of bank bailouts, the people rewarded his party with overwhelming gains in the midterm elections of 1934 and a resounding re-election in 1936. Along with an assertive populist Congress, the new administration used the bailout money in the RFC to implement mass foreclosure-mitigation programs, create deposit insurance, and put millions of people to work. He sought to save not the bankers but the savings of the people themselves.

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Neil Barofsky on Twitter: “No need to write a retrospective on the bailouts, @mtaibbi has got it all covered here.”

Taibbi’s reply: “Wow. Can I unpublish so you will write one? (Neil wrote the definitive book on the subject)”.

(Barofsky was the SIGTARP, the Special United States Treasury Department Inspector General overseeing the Troubled Assets Relief Program from late 2008 till early 2011)

Ten Years After the Crash, We’ve Learned Nothing (Taibbi)

Too Big To Fail shows Fuld on a rant: “People act like we’re crack dealers,” Fuld (James Woods) gripes. “Nobody put a gun to anybody’s head and said, ‘Hey, nimrod, buy a house you can’t afford. And you know what? While you’re at it, put a line of credit on that baby and buy yourself a boat.” This argument is the Wall Street equivalent of Reagan’s famous Cadillac-driving “welfare queen” spiel, which today is universally recognized as asinine race rhetoric. Were there masses of people pre-2008 buying houses they couldn’t afford? Hell yes. Were some of them speculators or “flippers” who were trying to game the bubble for profit? Sure. Most weren’t like that – most were ordinary working people, or, worse, elderly folks encouraged to refinance and use their houses as ATMs – but there were some flippers in there, sure.

People pointing the finger at homeowners are asking the wrong questions. The right question is, why didn’t the Fulds of the world care if those “nimrods” couldn’t afford their loans? The answer is, the game had nothing to do with whether or not the homeowner could pay. The homeowner was not the real mark. The real suckers were institutional customers like pensions, hedge funds and insurance companies, who invested in these mortgages. If you had a retirement fund and woke up one day in 2009 to see you’d lost 30 percent of your life savings, you were the mark. Ordinary Americans had their remaining cash in houses and retirement plans, and the subprime scheme was designed to suck the value out of both places, into the coffers of a few giant banks.

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“As of June 30, nearly one in 10 American homes with mortgages were “seriously” underwater..”

Millions Of Americans Trapped In Underwater Homes 10 Years After Crisis (R.)

School bus driver Michael Payne was renting an apartment on the 30th floor of a New York City high-rise, where the landlord’s idea of fixing broken windows was to cover them with boards. So when Payne and his wife Gail saw ads in the tabloids for brand-new houses in the Pennsylvania mountains for under $200,000, they saw an escape. The middle-aged couple took out a mortgage on a $168,000, four-bedroom home in a gated community with swimming pools, tennis courts and a clubhouse. “It was going for the American Dream,” Payne, now 61, said recently as he sat in his living room. “We felt rich.” Today the powder-blue split-level is worth less than half of what they paid for it 12 years ago at the peak of the nation’s housing bubble.

Located about 80 miles northwest of New York City in Monroe County, Pennsylvania, their home resides in one of the sickest real estate markets in the United States, according to a Reuters analysis of data provided by a leading realty tracking firm. More than one-quarter of homeowners in Monroe County are deeply “underwater,” meaning they still owe more to their lenders than their houses are worth. The world has moved on from the global financial crisis. Hard-hit areas such as Las Vegas and the Rust Belt cities of Pittsburgh and Cleveland have seen their fortunes improve. But the Paynes and about 5.1 million other U.S. homeowners are still living with the fallout from the real estate bust that triggered the epic downturn.

As of June 30, nearly one in 10 American homes with mortgages were “seriously” underwater, according to Irvine, California-based ATTOM Data Solutions, meaning that their market values were at least 25 percent lower than the balance remaining on their mortgages.

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And he just signed up to oversee it till 2020.

No-Deal Brexit Could Lead To Financial Crisis As Bad As 2008 – Carney (Ind.)

A no-deal Brexit could lead to a financial crisis as bad as the crash in 2008, the governor of the Bank of England has warned. Mark Carney told Theresa May and senior ministers that not getting a deal with the European Union would lead to a number of negative economic consequences. It is also understood that Mr Carney warned house prices could fall by up to 35 per cent over three years in a worst case scenario, an event that could cause the value of sterling to plummet and force the bank to push up interest rates. His bleak prognosis came as France said it could halt flights and Eurostar trains from the UK if there was no agreement when Britain leaves the EU in March 2019.

The Bank of England declined to comment on Mr Carney’s briefing to ministers. Following the three-and-a-half hour meeting of the cabinet, a Downing Street spokesman said ministers remained confident of securing a Brexit agreement, but had agreed to “ramp up” their no-deal planning.

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So what changes now?

Europe’s Top Rights Court Rules Against Britain Over Mass Surveillance (AFP)

Europe’s top rights court ruled Thursday that Britain’s programme of mass surveillance, revealed by whistleblower Edward Snowden as part of his sensational leaks on US spying, violated people’s right to privacy. Ruling in the case of Big Brother Watch and Others versus the United Kingdom, the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France, said the interception of journalistic material also violated the right to freedom of information. The case was brought by a group of journalists and rights activists who believe that their data may have been targeted. The court ruled that the existence of the surveillance programme “did not in and of itself violate the convention” but noted “that such a regime had to respect criteria set down in its case-law”.

They concluded that the mass trawling for information by Britain’s GCHQ spy agency violated Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights regarding the right to privacy because there was “insufficient oversight” of the programme. The court found the oversight to be doubly deficient, in the way in which the GCHQ selected internet providers for intercepting data and then filtered the messages, and the way in which intelligence agents selected which data to examine. It determined that the regime covering how the spy agency obtained data from internet and phone companies was “not in accordance with the law”.

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China needs money, badly. Or it wouldn’t open up like this.

S&P Sees Major Opportunity In China’s $11 Trillion Bond Market (CNBC)

Financial services and ratings giant S&P Global is honing in on China’s $11 trillion bond market, a move that may spell good news for international investors in search of more reliable ratings for bonds. Speaking to CNBC on Friday, S&P Global Chief Financial Officer Ewout Steenbergen explained that it’s a good time to enter China as Asia’s largest economy has lifted foreign ownership restrictions for credit ratings agencies. Elaborating on the company’s plan to offer ratings services for the bond market there, Steenbergen said that S&P Global intends to start a new entity for its mainland business.

“We are expanding our market intelligence business in China, very specific local content, for example for Chinese private company data … But the most attractive opportunity we have is in the ratings business,” he said on CNBC’s “Squawk Box.” “It is the third-largest domestic bond market in the world, we think it will overtake Japan soon to become the second-largest domestic bond market,” added Steenbergen, who is also an executive vice president at S&P Global. [..] Steenbergen said he hopes that S&P Global’s move to enter that market can create more confidence. “Today, Chinese domestic bonds, 2 percent are bought by international investors, 98 percent only by Chinese investors. And I think (how) we can help with the market is to create more maturity, more confidence.

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Another way to protest tariffs.

China Says World Trade System Not Perfect, Needs Reform (R.)

The current world trade system is not perfect and China supports reforms to it, including to the World Trade Organization, to make it fairer and more effective, Beijing’s top diplomat said. China is locked in a bitter trade war with the United States and has vowed repeatedly to uphold the multilateral trading system and free trade, with the WTO at its center. But speaking late on Thursday to reporters after meeting French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, Chinese State Councillor Wang Yi said some reforms could be good. While certain doubts have been raised about the current international trading system, China has always supported the protection of free trade and believes that multilateralism with the WTO at its core should be strengthened, Wang added.

[..] China will not buckle to U.S. demands in any trade negotiations, the major state-run China Daily newspaper said in an editorial on Friday, after Chinese officials welcomed an invitation from Washington for a new round of talks. The official China Daily said that while China was “serious” about resolving the stand-off through talks, it would not be rolled over, despite concerns over a slowing economy and a falling stock market at home. “The Trump administration should not be mistaken that China will surrender to the U.S. demands. It has enough fuel to drive its economy even if a trade war is prolonged,” the newspaper said in an editorial.

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Brussels still feels superior.

‘Little Mussolinis’: EU Chief Angers Italy With Comment On Far Right (R.)

The EU’s top economic official has voiced fears that “little Mussolinis” might be emerging in Europe, drawing a furious response from Italy’s far-right interior minister who accused him of insulting his country and Italians. Pierre Moscovici, a Frenchman who is the European Union’s economics affairs commissioner, said the current political situation, with populist, far-right forces on the rise in many nations, resembled the 1930s when Germany’s Adolf Hitler and Italian fascist chief Benito Mussolini were in power. “Fortunately there is no sound of jackboots, there is no Hitler, (but maybe there are) small Mussolinis. That remains to be seen,” he told reporters in Paris, speaking in a jocular fashion.

Moscovici, a former French finance minister, mentioned no names, but Matteo Salvini, who is a deputy prime minister and heads Italy’s anti-immigrant League, took it personally. “He should wash his mouth out before insulting Italy, the Italians and their legitimate government,” Salvini said in a statement released by his office in Rome. Salvini took advantage of the spat to set out once again his grievances with France, which he accuses of not doing enough to help deal with migrants from Africa and of having plunged Libya into chaos by helping to oust former strongman Muammar Gaddafi. “EU commissioner Moscovici, instead of censuring his France that rejects immigrants … has bombed Libya and has broken European (budget) parameters, attacks Italy and talks about ‘many little Mussolini’ around Europe,” Salvini said.

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Yeah. Not going to happen.

Third Of Earth’s Surface Must Be Protected To Prevent Mass Extinction (Ind.)

Two leading scientists have issued a call for massive swathes of the planet’s land and sea to be protected from human interference in order to avert mass extinction. Current levels of protection “do not even come close to required levels”, they said, urging world leaders to come to a new arrangement by which at least 30 per cent of the planet’s surface is formally protected by 2030. Chief scientist of the National Geographic Society Jonathan Baillie and Chinese Academy of Sciences biologist Ya-Ping Zhang made their views clear in an editorial published in the journal Science.

They said the new target was the absolute minimum that ought to be conserved, and ideally this figure should rise to 50 per cent by the middle of the century. “This will be extremely challenging, but it is possible,” they said. “Anything less will likely result in a major extinction crisis and jeopardise the health and wellbeing of future generations.” Most current scientific estimates have the amount of space needed to safeguard the world’s animals and plants at between 25 and 75 per cent of land and oceans.

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Nervous weekend ahead. In the Philippines too.

Hurricane Florence Deluges Carolinas Ahead Of Landfall (R.)

Heavy rain, wind gusts and rising floodwaters from Hurricane Florence swamped the Carolinas early on Friday as the massive storm crawled toward the coast, threatening millions of people in its path with record rainfall and punishing surf. Florence was downgraded to a Category 1 storm on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale on Thursday evening and was moving west at only 6 mph (9 km/h). The hurricane’s sheer size means it could batter the U.S. East Coast with hurricane-force winds for nearly a full day, according to weather forecasters. Despite its unpredictable path, it was forecast to make landfall near Cape Fear, North Carolina, at midday on Friday.

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Sep 052018
 
 September 5, 2018  Posted by at 9:18 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Henri Matisse Luxury, calm and pleasure 1904

 

JP Morgan Warns Next Crisis To Have Flash Crashes And Social Unrest (CNBC)
Share Buybacks Boost Earnings (Roberts)
Mueller To Accept Written Answers From Trump In Russia Probe (Ind.)
Senior Diplomat Exposes US Meddling In Russian Election (ZH)
Google Bosses Expected To Snub Senate (BBC)
Mervyn King Attacks ‘Incompetent’ Brexit Approach (BBC)
Angela Merkel Admits Collapse Of Brexit Talks Cannot Be Ruled Out (G.)
Mark Carney Willing To Stay On As BoE Governor To Help ‘Smooth’ Brexit (Ind.)
US ‘Could Have Forced A Greek Debt Haircut’ – Ashoka Mody (K.)
Eight Bird Species Are First Confirmed Avian Extinctions This Decade (G.)

 

 

Yeah, I know, the Woodward book. No objective views available. Lots of sensational quotes subject to interpretation. Tons of voices saying for instance that Trump wanted Mattis to kill Assad, even ordered him to. But Woodward writes that Trump said: “Let’s fucking kill him! Let’s go in. Let’s kill the fucking lot of them..”. That doesn’t sound like an order. That’s a first reaction from someone who’s been fooled by his own staff into believing Assad was responsible. Normal first reaction. Not an order. We’ll get some more balance, but it won’t come from the MSM.

 

Liquidity, volatility, fighting in the streets.

JP Morgan Warns Next Crisis To Have Flash Crashes And Social Unrest (CNBC)

Sudden, severe stock sell-offs sparked by lightning-fast machines. Unprecedented actions by central banks to shore up asset prices. Social unrest not seen in the U.S. in half a century. That’s how J.P. Morgan Chase’s head quant, Marko Kolanovic, envisions the next financial crisis. The forces that have transformed markets in the last decade, namely the rise of computerized trading and passive investing, are setting up conditions for potentially violent moves once the current bull market ends, according to a report from Kolanovic sent to the bank’s clients on Tuesday. His note is part of a 168-page mega-report, written for the 10th anniversary of the 2008 financial crisis, with perspectives from 48 of the bank’s analysts and economists.

Kolanovic, a 43-year-old analyst with a Ph.D. in theoretical physics, has risen in prominence for explaining, and occasionally predicting, how the new, algorithm-dominated stock market will behave. The current bull rally, the longest in modern history by some measures, has been characterized by extended periods of calm punctuated with spasms of selling known as flash crashes. Recent examples include a nearly 1,600 point intraday drop in February and a 1,100 point decline in August 2015. “They are very rapid, sharp declines in asset values with sharp increases in market volatility,” Kolanovic, the bank’s global head of macro quantitative and derivatives research, said in a recent interview. But those flash crashes occurred during a backdrop of a U.S. economic expansion; the new market hasn’t been tested in the throes of a recession, he said.

“If you have these liquidity-driven sharp sell-offs that come at the end of the cycle, or maybe even causes the end of the cycle, then I think you can have a much more significant asset price correction and even more significant increase in market volatility,” Kolanovic said. [..] Kolanovic closes his report on an ominous note: “The next crisis is also likely to result in social tensions similar to those witnessed 50 years ago in 1968.”

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Tyler labeled it the graph of the decade. That may be a bit much, but it’s good to point out that earnings rise ONLY because there are so many fewer outstanding shares. Buybacks don’t only raise share prices, they raise earnings numbers too.

Share Buybacks Boost Earnings (Roberts)

[..] while top line SALES fell, bottom line revenue expanded as share buybacks and accounting gimmickry escalated for the quarter. The question is whether sales dramatically expanded in Q2? Given some of the recent economic data, we have our doubts and expect a smaller increase. (I will update this chart when S&P updates the sales/share figure for Q2) As shown in the chart below, the biggest support for earnings expansion in Q2 continues to be the dramatic decline in shares outstanding.

Of course, such should not be a surprise. Since the recessionary lows, much of the rise in “profitability” have come from a variety of cost-cutting measures and accounting gimmicks rather than actual increases in top-line revenue. While tax cuts certainly provided the capital for a surge in buybacks, revenue growth, which is directly connected to a consumption-based economy, has remained muted. Since 2009, the reported earnings per share of corporations has increased by a total of 353%. This is the sharpest post-recession rise in reported EPS in history. However, the increase in earnings did not come from a commensurate increase in revenue which has only grown by a marginal 44% during the same period and declined from 49% in Q1.

The reality is that stock buybacks create an illusion of profitability. If a company earns $0.90 per share and has one million shares outstanding – reducing those shares to 900,000 will increase earnings per share to $1.00. No additional revenue was created, no more product was sold, it is simply accounting magic. Such activities do not spur economic growth or generate real wealth for shareholders. However, it does provide the basis for with which to keep Wall Street satisfied and stock option compensated executives happy.

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if Mueller does anything in the public eye before the mid terms are over, expect chaos.

Mueller To Accept Written Answers From Trump In Russia Probe (Ind.)

Special Counsel Robert Mueller will accept written answers from President Donald Trump on whether his campaign conspired with Russia to interfere in the 2016 US election, but Mr Mueller is not ruling out a follow-up interview on that issue, Mr Mueller’s offer to accept written responses from the president on questions about possible collusion was contained in a letter that Mr Trump’s lawyers received on Friday, a person familiar with the matter said on Tuesday. Mr Trump’s legal team and Mr Mueller’s investigators have been negotiating for months over whether the president will be formally interviewed in the probe.

The president’s team have not yet answered the letter. After receiving the written responses, Mr Mueller’s investigators would decide on a next step, which could include an interview with Mr Trump, the person said. The letter was first reported by the New York Times. It was not immediately clear what those conditions mean for other avenues Mr Mueller is exploring, including whether the president sought to obstruct the Russia investigation through actions such as the firing last year of former FBI Director James Comey.

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And there is Google.

Senior Diplomat Exposes US Meddling In Russian Election (ZH)

As Russian citizens prepare to head to the polls on Sunday to vote in regional elections, a senior Russian diplomat has revealed that Moscow has uncovered a US interference effort involving a Silicon Valley tech giant and activists opposed to the government of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Following a briefing on the matter, senior Russian diplomat Andrey Nesterenko told Russia’s Interfax news agency that the US “certainly does” meddle in the Russian electoral processes, as RT reported. The revelation followed reports that Russia has resumed a major airstrike of a reputed terrorist stronghold in Idlib province over the objections of President Trump, who warned that such a strike would be a humanitarian disaster.

“Our collective opinion is that electoral sovereignty is a principle that all civilized nations should respect” the diplomat said, adding that Moscow will notify “our American partners that the actions of their media outlets allow us to state that they are close to breaking Russian law.” Specifically, Nesterenko was referring to a possible violation of Russian election laws by Google parent Alphabet, which hosted advertisements for an illegal campaign rally organized by Russian opposition leader Aleksey Navalny. Navalny is calling for protests to denounce the vote, which he believes is biased. To help spread the word, Navalny’s public movement is using paid ads on Google services like YouTube. However, holding an event dedicated to an election campaign on the same day as the vote goes against Russian law.

The Russian Central Election Commission, media watchdog Roskomnadzor, and the Russian Anti-monopoly Service have reportedly informed Google about these illegal activities being carried out on its platform. “Living in a proper law-abiding nation, we expect every actor to play by the rules. Especially an informed player. If the opposite happens, I believe we have tools at our disposal [to address that],” Andrey Kashevarov, the deputy head of FAS, said.

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It’s like an all-out power game.

Google Bosses Expected To Snub Senate (BBC)

When Silicon Valley companies once again appear in front of the US Senate on Wednesday, there will be one major absentee: Google. The Senate Intelligence Committee wanted to hear from Sundar Pichai, Google’s chief executive, or his boss Larry Page, the chief executive of Google’s parent firm, Alphabet. Barring a dramatic, last-minute change of plan, the BBC understands neither will attend. It would mark the first time a technology firm has refused to comply with the wishes of Congress since the wide-reaching inquiries into misinformation and meddling began in the wake of the 2016 election. Google had instead hoped to send Kent Walker, one of its top lawyers. The offer was abruptly shut down by the committee.

Its vice chairman, the Democratic Senator Mark Warner, said an empty chair would be left out to represent Google’s non-appearance. Eventually, senators may issue a subpoena, forcing an appearance under the threat of prosecution. “If Google thinks we’re just going to go away, they’re sadly mistaken,” said Senator Warner, speaking to Wired magazine. The hearing, scheduled to begin at 09:30 (13:30 GMT), is entitled “Foreign Influence Operations’ Use of Social Media Platforms”. As well as Google, Twitter and Facebook have been called to appear. Twitter will be represented by its chief executive, Jack Dorsey, while Facebook is sending its chief operating officer, Sheryl Sandberg. It will be the first time either executive has faced a congressional committee.

[..] The affair risks becoming a public relations crisis for Google, which just last week was doing its best to bat back claims from President Donald Trump that it was censoring conservative news outlets in its search results. The White House did not provide any evidence to support the president’s complaints, but the topic may well come up at Wednesday’s hearing. “I don’t know if it’s because [Page] wants to avoid being asked about those things or because they think they’re so important and so powerful that they don’t need to provide congressional testimony,” said Republican Senator Marco Rubio, speaking to the Washington Post. He also told the newspaper: “They should be careful with that. When a company gets too big to become accountable, they become a monopoly.”

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No kidding.

Mervyn King Attacks ‘Incompetent’ Brexit Approach (BBC)

Former Bank of England governor Lord King has blasted Brexit preparations as “incompetent”. The Brexit supporter said it “beggared belief” that the world’s sixth-biggest economy should be talking of stockpiling food and medicines. This left the government without a credible bargaining position, he said. “A government that cannot take action to prevent some of these catastrophic outcomes illustrates a whole lack of preparation,” he said. “It doesn’t tell us anything about whether the policy of staying in the EU is good or bad, it tells us everything about the incompetence of the preparation for it.” Lord King said the 11th-hour preparation for a no-deal Brexit had undermined the government’s negotiating position.

He added: “We haven’t had a credible bargaining position, because we hadn’t put in place measures where we could say to our colleagues in Europe, ‘Look, we’d like a free-trade deal, we think that you would probably like one too, but if we can’t agree, don’t be under any misapprehension, we have put in place the measures that would enable us to leave without one.'” He predicts that we will find ourselves with what’s been dubbed as Brino – Brexit in name only – which he said was the worst of all worlds. It’s also a state of affairs that he fears could drag on for years. “I think the biggest risk to the UK, and this is what worries me most, is that this issue isn’t going to go away, you know the referendum hasn’t decided it, because both camps feel that they haven’t got what they wanted.”

Lord King expressed regret and surprise that it was more difficult for a single country to present a united front than the other 27 EU members. He said: “They must have been really worried that they had 27 countries to try to corral, how could they have a united negotiating position, they were dealing with a country that was one country, made a clear decision, voted to leave, it knew what it wanted to do, how on earth could the EU manage to negotiate against this one decisive group on the other side of the Channel? “Well, the reality’s been completely the opposite. The EU has been united, has been clear, has been patient and it’s the UK that’s been divided without any clear strategy at all for how to get to where we want to go.”

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Maybe at this point Merkel should be more outspoken?

Angela Merkel Admits Collapse Of Brexit Talks Cannot Be Ruled Out (G.)

Angela Merkel has warned her country’s business leaders that the Brexit negotiations are in danger of collapse. With talks in Brussels at an impasse with just months to go before a deal needs to be agreed, the German chancellor made a rare intervention at a conference in Frankfurt. She told major players in the world of German finance on Tuesday: “We don’t want the discussions to break down. We will use all our force and creativity to make sure a deal happens. We don’t want these negotiations to collapse. But we also can’t fully rule that out because we still have no result.” The EU says it needs a deal to be struck on the withdrawal agreement covering citizens’ rights, the £39bn divorce bill and the Irish border, along with the political declaration on the future deal, by November at the latest.

The German chancellor has generally played a backseat role in the talks, preferring to intervene only at crunch points at EU summits. EU leaders are due to meet in Brussels in October, but an emergency summit is being pencilled in for 13 November in case the negotiations require an extra few weeks for agreement to be made. The leaders will be gathering at a summit in Salzburg later this month where the EU27 are planning a “carrot and stick” approach to Brexit, offering Theresa May warm words on the Chequers proposals to take to the Conservative conference alongside a sharp warning that they need a plan for Northern Ireland within weeks.

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Using the words ‘Brexit’ and ‘smooth’ in one sentence is just comedy. Wonder what they had to promise him. Knighthood?

Mark Carney Willing To Stay On As BoE Governor To Help ‘Smooth’ Brexit (Ind.)

Mark Carney told MPs on Tuesday that he was willing to stay on as governor of the Bank of England beyond his planned departure date in order to “smooth” the Brexit process. Mr Carney had planned to step down in June 2019 after six years in Threadneedle Street’s top job, two years fewer than BoE governors normally serve. But, asked by MPs on the Treasury Committee whether he would stay, Mr Carney said: “Even though I have already agreed to extend my time to support a smooth Brexit, I am willing to do whatever else I can in order to promote both a smooth Brexit and effective transition at the Bank of England.”

“The chancellor and I have discussed this. I would expect an announcement to be made in due course.” The comments come after mounting speculation in recent days that the Treasury would like Mr Carney to stay on in his role, providing more continuity during uncertain economic times. There are fears that few candidates will put themselves forward for the job as the Brexit negotiations reach a critical stage.

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“What was the basic demand of SYRIZA? To tie debt repayments to GDP and so reduce the level of austerity. Any good economist will tell you that was a very reasonable starting point for the negotiation.”

US ‘Could Have Forced A Greek Debt Haircut’ – Ashoka Mody (K.)

“The fundamental reason why the Greek crisis lasted so long was the extreme level of austerity that was imposed.” That is the verdict of Ashoka Mody, visiting professor in International Economic Policy at Princeton University, a former deputy director of the IMF’s European Department and one of the most eloquent critics of the policies of the troika in Greece and elsewhere. Mody, who recently published a long-form version of these critiques in his book “EuroTragedy: A Drama in Nine Acts”, spoke to Kathimerini about the Greek crisis and those to blame for it. We began by discussing what many consider the original sin of the bailout period: the decision not to restructure Greece’s debt in May 2010. What should the IMF have done?

“It should have insisted, it should have made the restructuring a condition of its participation,” the Indian-born economist said, mentioning that the staff report all but admitted the debt was unsustainable and that Dominique Strauss-Kahn later said he was in favor of debt relief. “The reason it didn’t happen was the ideological opposition of the European Central Bank – in this case supported by the US Treasury. Strauss-Kahn did not want to offend either the Americans or the Europeans. The stance of the US Treasury was critical – if its representative on the Executive Board had come out in favor of a restructuring, it would have happened. Instead, it sided completely with the European viewpoint – the Treasury secretary, Tim Geithner, believed that there should never be a restructuring in the midst of a crisis.”

Regarding the argument that the problem in Greece (compared with other bailout countries) was there was no ownership of reforms, Mody said: “It is indeed the case that IMF programs only succeed when there is ownership. The question is what were Greeks asked to own. The arithmetic of austerity was relentless, cruel. Whatever the Greeks did, with austerity on such a scale they could not have escaped the collapse in gross domestic product. And then things became even worse, because the recession led to targets being missed, which led to more measures! The IMF published studies at the time showing what a terrible idea it was to impose further austerity in a recession, how it worsens the debt-to-GDP ratio. Yet the IMF kept doing it in Greece, ignoring all its internal studies!”

[..] The conversation turned to 2015. How does he think the creditors should have handled SYRIZA differently? “Look, even before SYRIZA came to power, Wolfgang Schaeuble said that elections do not matter. On January 31, 2015, six days after the election, Erkki Liikanen, the head of the Finnish central bank, says that if the new government does not accept the program, the ECB will cut liquidity support for Greek banks. Four days later, the ECB withdraws the waiver [which allowed the banks to borrow cheaply from it, using Greek government bonds as collateral]. And in June, the Europeans close down the banks. What was the basic demand of SYRIZA? To tie debt repayments to GDP and so reduce the level of austerity. Any good economist will tell you that was a very reasonable starting point for the negotiation.”

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More of my friends are leaving every day. Some don’t even say goodbye.

Eight Bird Species Are First Confirmed Avian Extinctions This Decade (G.)

Spix’s macaw, a brilliant blue species of Brazilian parrot that starred in the children’s animation Rio, has become extinct this century, according to a new assessment of endangered birds. The macaw is one of eight species, including the poo-uli, the Pernambuco pygmy-owl and the cryptic treehunter, that can be added to the growing list of confirmed or highly likely extinctions, according to a new statistical analysis by BirdLife International. Historically, most bird extinctions have been small-island species vulnerable to hunting or invasive species but five of these new extinctions have occurred in South America and are attributed by scientists to deforestation.

Stuart Butchart, BirdLife International’s chief scientist, said the new study highlighted that an extinction crisis was now unfolding on large continents, driven by human habitat destruction. “People think of extinctions and think of the dodo but our analysis shows that extinctions are continuing and accelerating today,” he said. “Historically 90% of bird extinctions have been small populations on remote islands. Our evidence shows there is a growing wave of extinctions washing over the continent driven by habitat loss from unsustainable agriculture, drainage and logging.” More than 26,000 of the world’s species are now threatened, according to the latest “red list” assessment, with scientists warning that humans are driving a sixth great extinction event.


The Brazilian Spix’s macaw, as seen in the children’s movie Rio, is one of the eight birds to become extinct Photograph: Al Wabra Wildlife Preservation

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Jun 132018
 
 June 13, 2018  Posted by at 8:49 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  


John French Sloan South Beach Bathers 1908

 

Capital Flight to Germany in Full Swing (Mish)
The Big Italy Short Was Hiding In Plain Sight (R.)
G7 Summit Highlights Western Leaders Hypocrisy (Lacalle)
Donald Trump Was Right. The Rest Of The G7 Were Wrong (Monbiot)
Centrists Very Concerned That Donald Fucking Trump Isn’t Hawkish Enough (CJ)
May Heads Off Major Defeat After Last-Minute Climbdown To Rebels (Ind.)
Tesla To Cut 9% Of Staff In Profitability Drive (G.)
Americans Just Paid Off A Ton Of Credit-Card Debt—But Here’s The Bad News (MW)
India Farmers Sow Unapproved Monsanto Cotton Seeds, Risking Arrest (R.)
One in Three British Mammal Species Could Be Gone Within A Decade (Ind.)

 

 

“The only door left open is door number 3.”

Capital Flight to Germany in Full Swing (Mish)

I have commented on Target2 liabilities before. Perhaps a Mish-modified translation from the Welt article Imbalance in the Euro System Reaches a New Record will ring a bell. The central banks of Germany’s euro partners Italy, Spain and France owe the Bundesbank almost a trillion euros . This is a new high. – more than ever before. Tendency continues to rise. There is no security for this money. Read that last line again and again until it sinks in. Italy is €464.7 billion in the hole. Spain is €376.6 billion in the hole. Creditors owe Germany, the Netherlands, and Finland over €1.157 trillion. In May, Italian liabilities increased by almost 40 billion euros.

“Capital flight to Germany is in full swing,” says Hans-Werner Sinn, longtime head of the Ifo Institute and one of the most prominent economists in the Federal Republic. Originally, Target2 was designed to facilitate cross-border transactions within the eurozone. The system achieved this goal. From the point of view of critics, this means that the Deutsche Bundesbank provides long-term unsecured and non-interest-bearing loans to the central banks of other eurozone countries , especially the central banks of southern countries Italy, Spain and Portugal.

Target2 is a fundamental problem of the Eurozone. • The ECB guarantees these loans. • As long as they are guaranteed, then hells bells, why not make more loans? Germany will pay one way or another. Here are the possibilities. 1) Germany and the creditor nations forgive enough debt for Europe to grow. This is the transfer union solution. 2) Permanently high unemployment and slow growth in Spain, Greece, Italy, with stagnation elsewhere in Europe 3) Breakup of the eurozone. Those are the alternatives. Germany will not allow number 1. It is unreasonable to expect number 2 to last forever. The only door left open is door number 3.

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Nothing about this needs to be invented.

The Big Italy Short Was Hiding In Plain Sight (R.)

The marriage of politics and finance in Italy regularly produces strange offspring. But a suggestion, floated over the weekend in the country’s most-respected newspaper, of a James Bond-style plot by some big investors to sink Italian financial markets added a new twist. More curious was the theory’s abrupt disappearance by Monday. The episode highlights the degree to which Europe’s most chaos-resilient economy has entered a risky new paradigm with the arrival of the most populist government since the Italian Republic’s founding in 1946. On Saturday, Corriere della Sera, the Milanese voice of the establishment, published an article which speculated that some investors betting against Italian assets might have helped engineer a market crisis.

The trigger for the Italian panic was the May 15 publication by Huffington Post’s Italian website of a draft version of the new government’s “contract”, which included language pertaining to a possible exit from the single European currency. That document, HuffPo has said, arrived in an unmarked envelope. Markets went haywire over the prospect that the government cobbled together by the two parties who gained the most seats in the March election – the right-wing League and hard-to-label 5-Star Movement – would adopt an explicitly anti-euro platform. The difference between the yields on 10-year German and Italian government bonds surged to almost 320 basis points from just around 130 basis points before the draft appeared. Any bets against Italian sovereign credit would have produced a tidy profit.

Corriere has substantially revised the story. It no longer includes language that one hedge fund, Brevan Howard, considered defamatory. That firm’s AH Master Fund, run by Alan Howard, gained 37 percent in May, thanks in part to bets on the direction of Italian assets. On Tuesday, the newspaper appended an author’s note to the piece in which it said: “We never intended to accuse or suggest that there were any kind of offenses or improper conduct by Howard in trading or in his involvement in the case of documents filtered to the Huffington Post.” In a statement to Reuters Breakingviews, the author, Federico Fubini, defended the piece. “We have run a fact-based article whose substance remains.” The paper decided “to amend the text to avert a potentially time-consuming case in foreign courts.”

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EU, China protectionism.

G7 Summit Highlights Western Leaders Hypocrisy (Lacalle)

The G7 failure to come to terms on trade highlights the problem of governments trying to macromanage trade. And no, the failure to even agree to disagree cannot be blamed on President Trump and his new-found economic nationalism. The list of countries with the largest trade surplus with the United States is led by China, which exports $375 billion more than it imports. It is followed, very far away, by Mexico ($71 billion), Japan (69 billion), Germany (65 billion), Vietnam (38 billion), Ireland (38 billion) and Italy ($31 billion). Not surprisingly, the markets with most protectionist measures against the United States are China, the European Union, Japan, Mexico and India.

These facts explain much more about the failure of the G7 summit than any Manichean analysis on Trump, Trudeau, Macron, or any of the leaders gathered there. During the last twenty years, the world has carried out a widespread practice in governments’ disastrous idea of “sustaining” GDP with demand-side policies. Build excess capacity, subsidize it, and hope to export that excess to the United States. Especially China, Germany, and Japan have economies with high state interventionism and therefore very high excess capacity, in part due to a high personal savings rate. Steel and aluminum, like the automobile industry, are examples of building unnecessary capacity and subsidizing it, country by country, hoping it will be somebody else who closes its inefficient factories to be able to export more to that country.

In Germany, the influence of the automobile industry over the government is legendary. What isn’t are the relatively high tariffs American manufacturers face when exporting to Europe and the low tariffs America itself imposes on automobile imports. What is also ironic is that modern-day protectionism didn’t start with Trump. Barriers against global trade increased between 2009 and 2016. The World Trade Organization warned, year after year, since 2010, about the increase in protectionism. The Obama administration, faced with the exponential increase in its trade deficit, was the one that introduced the highest number of protectionist measures between 2009 and 2016. The only difference between Trump and Obama was that Obama didn’t publicize this much and the mainstream media didn’t complain.

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True, these deals need a sunset clause.

Donald Trump Was Right. The Rest Of The G7 Were Wrong (Monbiot)

He gets almost everything wrong. But last weekend Donald Trump got something right. To the horror of the other leaders of the rich world, he defended democracy against its detractors. Perhaps predictably, he has been universally condemned for it. His crime was to insist that the North American Free Trade Agreement (Nafta) should have a sunset clause. In other words, it should not remain valid indefinitely, but expire after five years, allowing its members either to renegotiate it or to walk away. To howls of execration from the world’s media, his insistence has torpedoed efforts to update the treaty.

In Rights of Man, published in 1791, Thomas Paine argued that: “Every age and generation must be as free to act for itself, in all cases, as the ages and generations which preceded it. The vanity and presumption of governing beyond the grave is the most ridiculous and insolent of all tyrannies.” This is widely accepted – in theory if not in practice – as a basic democratic principle. Even if the people of the US, Canada and Mexico had explicitly consented to Nafta in 1994, the idea that a decision made then should bind everyone in North America for all time is repulsive. So is the notion, championed by the Canadian and Mexican governments, that any slightly modified version of the deal agreed now should bind all future governments.

But the people of North America did not explicitly consent to Nafta. They were never asked to vote on the deal, and its bipartisan support ensured that there was little scope for dissent. The huge grassroots resistance in all three nations was ignored or maligned. The deal was fixed between political and commercial elites, and granted immortality. In seeking to update the treaty, governments in the three countries have candidly sought to thwart the will of the people. Their stated intention was to finish the job before Mexico’s presidential election in July. The leading candidate, Andrés Lopez Obrador, has expressed hostility to Nafta, so it had to be done before the people cast their vote. They might wonder why so many have lost faith in democracy.

[..] Trump was right to spike the Trans-Pacific Partnership. He is right to demand a sunset clause for Nafta. When this devious, hollow, self-interested man offers a better approximation of the people’s champion than any other leader, you know democracy is in trouble.

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Caitlin again.

Centrists Very Concerned That Donald Fucking Trump Isn’t Hawkish Enough (CJ)

[..] by far the most common concerns being expressed about the Singapore summit are based not on a fear of this administration making insufficiently aggressive demands of Pyongyang, but on pure ridiculous nonsense. “President Trump seems to have given away two or three of the major things that Kim Jong-Un wanted,” Schumer complained at the aforementioned press conference. “A meeting. The flags next to each other. Now a delay of exercises with South Korea, without getting anything in return.” Huh? A meeting? Flags next to each other? I can kinda-sorta-almost see into Schumer’s twisted reality tunnel when it comes to temporarily suspending military drills along the DPRK’s border as an act of good faith, but on what planet is having a meeting or putting two flags next to each other a win of any kind?

Well, going by the outcry I’m seeing from Twitter pundits, the concern appears to be that it “legitimizes” Kim Jong-Un. What exactly that means is hard to fathom in terms of actual, tangible reality, but for years that term has been passed around like it has as much relevance as war or starvation sanctions. This imaginary product of “legitimacy” is, according to influential mainstream political commentators, meant to be withheld from Kim until he gives up everything he has and grovels on his belly begging for it. This just shows you the power of narrative, where repeating some meaningless placeholder syllables over and over again can create the illusion that a purely mental construct is as relevant in peace negotiations as nuclear warheads.

It isn’t hard to see through for anyone who doesn’t have a vested interest in subscribing to that narrative, though, and Pyongyang certainly has no such interest. [..] There are many, many perfectly valid things to criticize the Trump administration for. Opening up peace talks with North Korea is not one of them, and anyone who says it is is not a friend of humanity. The fact that nobody on either side of the aisle seems to have their foot anywhere near the brake pedal when it comes to war should concern us all, and we need to do something about it.

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Might as well stop the whole process right now.

May Heads Off Major Defeat After Last-Minute Climbdown To Rebels (Ind.)

Rebel Conservatives have forced Theresa May into a climbdown, handing parliament greater control of Brexit if she fails to seal a deal. After the prime minister was threatened with what could have been a damaging commons defeat, she promised key concessions in dramatic last minute talks with pro-EU rebels. It is likely to mean her accepting a deadline by which she must secure a deal with Brussels, if she wants to stay in the driving seat for negotiations. Her ministers must now spell out the detail of her compromises within days, with Tory rebels warning a failure to do so would reignite the prospect of a major commons loss destabilising her leadership.

It followed a day which started with the resignation of a minister and passed into febrile commons debate that saw ministers bargaining openly with rebels in the chamber. Rebel MP Nicky Morgan told The Independent: “The whole point of what has come about is that we are going to have a process to this, something which does not simply allow us to drift into a hard Brexit.” The row was precipitated by the Lords last month passing a plan that would have given parliament the power to direct Ms May’s actions if she failed to seal a Brexit deal later this year. Ministers were demanding Tory MPs vote it out of existence in the Commons on Tuesday, but had also refused to consider a more palatable compromise proposed by the former Conservative attorney general Dominic Grieve.

It would have instead seen Ms May being tied into a strict timetable of having to set out her own proposals if she failed to seal a deal by November, and then gain parliamentary approval for them – the stronger powers for MPs to direct her action would only come into play if a deal had still not been reached by February.

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What, no new loans?

Tesla To Cut 9% Of Staff In Profitability Drive (G.)

Tesla is slashing thousands of jobs, its chief executive, Elon Musk, announced Tuesday, as the electronic car company attempts to hit production targets and reach profitability. Musk called the job cuts, which will affect about 9% of the company’s more than 40,000 employees, “difficult, but necessary” in a tweet that contained the email he had sent to employees announcing the layoffs. “What drives us is our mission to accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable, clean energy, but we will never achieve that mission unless we eventually demonstrate that we can be sustainably profitable,” the billionaire entrepreneur wrote in the email.

The job cuts will be centered on salaried employees, not factory workers, Musk said, writing, “This will not affect our ability to reach Model 3 production targets in the coming months.” Tesla has been under intense pressure to prove that it can achieve mass production of the Model 3, its first mass market vehicle. The company has yet to reach Musk’s goal of producing 5,000 cars a week – originally promised for the end of 2017. At Tesla’s annual shareholder meeting on 5 June, Musk said he believed the company would hit the 5,000 cars-a-week goal by the end of June, and that he thought the company could be profitable later this year.

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They paid off so much because they owe so much.

Americans Just Paid Off A Ton Of Credit-Card Debt—But Here’s The Bad News (MW)

A lot of Americans paid big credit-card bills in the first quarter of 2018. And they still have a long way to go. Americans repaid $40.3 billion in credit card debt during the first quarter of 2018, according to a new analysis of data from the U.S. Census Bureau, Federal Reserve and credit agency TransUnion by the personal-finance website WalletHub. That’s the second-highest amount paid off in one quarter since the first quarter of 2009, when consumers paid off more than $44 billion. Now, the bad news: That doesn’t mean their debts are getting that much smaller. Americans ended 2017 with $91.6 billion in new credit-card debt, the largest annual amount since 2007 and 104% above the post-recession average.

Outstanding credit card debt is at the second-highest point since the end of 2008, the report said. In 2017, Americans hit a record high of $1.021 trillion in outstanding revolving debt (often categorized as credit-card debt). In April 2018, they still had more $1.030 trillion to pay off, according to the Federal Reserve. Consumers’ recent debt payoff “is not as dramatic as the dollar amount makes it seem,” said Nick Clements, the co-founder of personal finance company MagnifyMoney, who previously worked in the credit industry. The reason: The total amount of credit-card debt Americans have has also been growing.

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How Monsanto sneaks in illegal seeds.

India Farmers Sow Unapproved Monsanto Cotton Seeds, Risking Arrest (R.)

Many Indian farmers are openly sowing an unapproved variety of genetically modified (GM) cotton seeds developed by Monsanto, as the government sits on the sidelines for fear of antagonizing a big voting bloc ahead of an election next year. India approved the first GM cotton seed trait in 2002 and an upgraded variety in 2006, helping transform the country into the world’s top producer and second-largest exporter of the fiber. But newer traits are not available after Monsanto in 2016 withdrew an application seeking approval for the latest variety due to a royalty dispute with the government. The herbicide-tolerant variety, lab-altered to help farmers save costs on weed management, has, however, seeped into the country’s farms since then. Authorities say they are still investigating how that happened.

“I will only use these seeds or nothing at all,” said Rambhau Shinde, a farmer who has been cultivating cotton for nearly four decades in the western state of Maharashtra. The federal environment ministry said last year planting the seeds violated the Environment Protection Act, and farmers who did so were risking potential jail terms. But many farmers are desperate to boost their incomes after poor yields over the past few years and are willing to ignore the warnings. A government official in New Delhi, who deals with matters related to GM crops, said it was difficult to keep farmers away from something that they saw benefit in. “If you don’t allow them to plant legally, illegal planting will happen,” the official said, requesting anonymity, adding that Monsanto had yet to reapply for an approval to sell its latest variety of GM cotton in India.

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Bats and cats and rats.

One in Three British Mammal Species Could Be Gone Within A Decade (Ind.)

Populations of much-loved British mammals including hedgehogs and water voles have dropped by up to two-thirds over the past 20 years, and many more are threatened with imminent extinction. Even some apparently common creatures such as rabbits have been driven into decline by human pressures such as harmful farming activities and climate change. These findings come from a review carried out by the Mammal Society and Natural England, the first of its kind to be conducted in more than two decades. The country has undergone significant changes since the last analysis in 1995, and some of the species at risk then – including badgers and otters – have since made considerable recoveries.

However, pesticide use, invasive species and road deaths have all taken their toll, and the scientists behind the study have warned Britain is on “a precipice” and must take urgent action to save its mammals. “This is happening on our own doorstep so it falls upon all of us to try and do what we can to ensure that our threatened species do not go the way of the lynx, wolf and elk and disappear from our shores forever,” said Professor Fiona Mathews, chair of the Mammal Society. The review, which made use of data collected by members of the public as well as scientists over the course of decades, covered all 58 of the country’s land mammal species.

The scientists constructed the first ever “red list” for British mammals, and found 12 are threatened with extinction. This means animals like the wildcat, greater mouse-eared bat and even the black rat are likely to be gone forever from Britain’s shores within the next 10 years. However, they noted this is likely to be an underestimate, and the real number could be as high as one in three.

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Jun 072018
 
 June 7, 2018  Posted by at 2:17 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  Comments Off on Everything That Dies Does Not Come Back


Charles Sprague Pearce The Arab jeweler c1882

 

 

There are a lot of industries in our world that wreak outsized amounts of havoc. Think the biggest global banks and oil companies. Think plastics. But there is one field that is much worse than all others: agro-chemicals. At some point, not that long ago, the largest chemical producers, who until then had kept themselves busy producing Agent Orange, nerve agents and chemicals used in concentration camp showers, got the idea to use their products in food production.

While they had started out with fertilizers etc., they figured making crops fully dependent on their chemicals would be much more lucrative. They bought themselves ever more seeds and started manipulating them. And convinced more and more farmers, or rather food agglomerates, that if there were ‘pests’ that threatened their yields, they should simply kill them, rather than use natural methods to control them.

And in monocultures that actually makes sense. It’s the monoculture itself that doesn’t. What works in nature is (bio)diversity. It’s the zenith of cynicism that the food we need to live is now produced by a culture of death. Because that is what Monsanto et al represent: Their solution to whatever problem farmers may face is to kill it with poison. But that will end up killing the entire ecosystem a farmer operates within, and depends on.

However, the Monsantos of the planet produce much more ‘research’ material than anybody else, and it all says that the demise of ecosystems into which their products are introduced, has nothing to do with these products. And by the time anyone can prove the opposite, it will be too late: the damage will have been done through cross-pollination. Monsanto can then sue anyone who has crops that show traces of its genetically altered proprietary seeds, even if the last thing a farmer wants is to include those traces.

Anyway, when reading John Vidal in the Guardian yesterday, I was struck by some numbers. Bayer-Monsanto, soon to be just Bayer, own 60% of proprietary seeds and 70% of agrochemicals in the world. That’s roughly comparable to the numbers of vertebrates and insects that have vanished from the countrysides of Germany, France and England. Life itself is dying. Species extinction is now a bigger threat than climate change. Vidal:

 

Who Should Feed The World: Real People Or Faceless Multinationals?

“Through its many subsidiary companies and research arms, Bayer-Monsanto will have an indirect impact on every consumer and a direct one on most farmers in Britain, the EU and the US. It will effectively control nearly 60% of the world’s supply of proprietary seeds, 70% of the chemicals and pesticides used to grow food, and most of the world’s GM crop genetic traits, as well as much of the data about what farmers grow where, and the yields they get.

It will be able to influence what and how most of the world’s food is grown, affecting the price and the method it is grown by. But the takeover is just the last of a trio of huge seed and pesticide company mergers.” It will be able to influence what and how most of the world’s food is grown, affecting the price and the method it is grown by.

But the takeover is just the last of a trio of huge seed and pesticide company mergers. Backed by governments, and enabled by world trade rules and intellectual property laws, Bayer-Monsanto, Dow-DuPont and ChemChina-Syngenta have been allowed to control much of the world’s supply of seeds.

Do note that although Dow-DuPont and ChemChina-Syngenta may be large companies, Bayer-Monsanto alone own 60% of proprietary seeds and 70% of agrochemicals. Since they ‘only’ own 60% and 70%, they can’t be accused of running a monopoly. But their main product, glyphosate (Roundup) is also produced by Dow, DuPont and Syngenta. So together they do effectively run a monopoly. Just not ‘technically’. These guys have the world’s best and biggest legal, lobbying and PR teams. Because they’re after global control.

[..] because most farmers in rich countries already buy their seeds from the multinationals, opposition has barely been heard. Instead, it is coming from the likes of Debal Deb, an Indian plant researcher who grows forgotten crops and is the antithesis of Bayer and Monsanto. While they concentrate on developing a small number of blockbuster staple crops, Deb grows as many crops as he can and gives the seeds away.

This year he is cultivating an astonishing 1,340 traditional varieties of Indian “folk” rice on land donated to him in West Bengal. More than 7,000 farmers in six states will be given the seeds, on the condition that they also grow them and give some away.

This seed-sharing of “landraces”, or local varieties, is not philanthropy but the extension of an age-old system of mutualised farming that has provided social stability and dietary diversity for millions of people. By continually selecting, crossbreeding and then exchanging their seeds, farmers have developed varieties for their aroma, taste, colour, medicinal properties and resistance to pests, drought and flood.

The battle is between biodiversity and Monsanto, and the latter is winning big. Monsanto-Bayer wants farmers to grow only a few crops, that it has patents on, and to kill off everything else with the chemicals without which these crops will not grow. Monoculture on steroids, raised in sterile environments bereft of life. 75% of insects gone in Europe’s countrysides, 60% of vertebrates, birds and butterflies becoming a rarity.

It is insanity in its purest form. Insanity of individual people, insanity of legal systems, insanity of governance. No-one, and no country, should be obliged to prove that Monsanto’s products are killing off biodiversity. We have an instrument called the precautionary principle, and we must use it. Like Hippocrates’ First Do No Harm. It is not complicated.

But I must admit I sometimes think it’s already too late. Once you kill off 70% of any form of life, in any ecosystem, how is it going to recover? Because mind you, with the Bayer-Monsanto merger being approved worldwide, things are only going to get worse at ever increasing speed. The agro-chemical industry is a culture of death that relies for its profits on a giant die-off, probably worse than whatever it is that killed the dinosaurs 65 million years ago.

And the odds that mankind will survive this one are slim to none. Our survival depends one on one on the diversity in the ecosystems we reside in. But yeah, I hear you: intelligent species.

 

 

Here’s something I first published in December 2016. Things have gotten much worse much faster than I could have predicted back then. Kill Monsanto before it kills your children.

 

 

Mass Extinction and Mass Insanity

 


Caters Extremely rare albino elephant, Kruger National Park in South Africa

 

Everything dies, baby, that’s a fact
But maybe everything that dies someday comes back …

Springsteen, Atlantic City

“Erwin Schrodinger (1945) has described life as a system in steady-state thermodynamic disequilibrium that maintains its constant distance from equilibrium (death) by feeding on low entropy from its environment – that is, by exchanging high-entropy outputs for low-entropy inputs. The same statement would hold verbatium as a physical description of our economic process. A corollary of this statement is that an organism cannot live in a medium of its own waste products.”
Herman Daly and Kenneth Townsend

 

What drives our economies is waste. Not need, or even demand. Waste. 2nd law of thermodynamics. It drives our lives, period.

First of all, don’t tell me you’re trying to stop the ongoing extinction of nature and wildlife on this planet, or the destruction of life in general. Don’t even tell me you’re trying. Don’t tell me it’s climate change that we should focus on (that’s just a small part of the story), and you’re driving an electric car and you’re separating your trash or things like that. That would only mean you’re attempting to willfully ignore your share of destruction, because if you do it, so will others, and the planet can’t take anymore of your behavior.

This is the big one. And the only ones amongst us who don’t think so are those who don’t want to. Who think it’s easier to argue that some problems are too big for them to tackle, that they should be left to others to solve. But why should we, why should anyone, worry about elections or even wars, when it becomes obvious we’re fast approaching a time when such things don’t matter much anymore?

The latest WWF Living Planet Report shows us that the planet is a whole lot less alive than it used to be. And that we killed that life. That we replaced it with metal, bricks, plastic and concrete. Mass consumption leads to mass extinction. And that is fully predictable, it always was; there’s nothing new there.

We killed 58% of all vertebrate wildlife just between 1970 and 2012, and at a rate of 2% per year we will have massacred close to 70% of it by 2020, just 4 years from now. So what does it matter who’s president of just one of the many countries we invented on this planet? Why don’t we address what’s really crucial to our very survival instead?

 

 

The latest report from the WWF should have us all abandon whatever it is we’re doing, and make acting to prevent further annihilation of our living world the key driver in our everyday lives, every hour of every day, every single one of us. Anything else is just not good enough, and anything else will see us, that self-nominated intelligent species, annihilated in the process.

Granted, there may be a few decrepit and probably halfway mutant specimens of our species left, living in conditions we couldn’t even begin, nor dare, to imagine, with what will be left of their intelligence wondering how our intelligence could have ever let this happen. You’d almost wish they’ll understand as little as we ever did; that some form of ignorance equal to ours will soften their pain.

It’s important to note that the report does not describe a stagnant situation, there’s no state of affairs, not something still, it describes an ongoing and deteriorating process. That is, we don’t get to choose to stop the ongoing wildlife annihilation at 70%; we are witnessing, and indeed we are actively involved in, raising that number by 2% every year that we ‘live’ (can we even call it that anymore, are you alive when you murder all life around you?) in this world.

This is our only home.

 

 

Without the natural world that we were born into, or rather that our species, our ancestors, were born into, we have zero chance of survival. Because it is the natural world that has allowed for, and created, the conditions that made it possible for mankind to emerge and develop in the first place. And we are nowhere near making an earth 2.0; the notion itself is preposterous. A few thousand years of man ‘understanding’ his world is no match for billions of years of evolution. That’s the worst insult to whatever intelligence it is that we do have.

Much has been made through the years of our ability to adapt to changing circumstances, and much of that is just as much hubris as so much of what we tell ourselves, but the big question should be WHY we would volunteer to find out to what extent we can adapt to a world that has sustained the losses we cause it to suffer. Even if we could to a degree adapt to that, why should we want to?

Two thirds of our world is gone, and it’s we who have murdered it, and what’s worse – judging from our lifestyles- we seem to have hardly noticed at all. If we don’t stop what we’ve been doing, this can lead to one outcome only: we will murder ourselves too. Our perhaps biggest problem (even if we have quite a few) in this regard is our ability and propensity to deny this, as we deny any and all -serious, consequential- wrongdoing.

 

 

There are allegedly serious and smart people working on, dreaming of, and getting billions in subsidies for, fantasies of human colonies on Mars. This is advertized as a sign of progress and intelligence. But that can only be true if we can acknowledge that our intelligence and our insanity are identical twins. Because it is insane to destroy the planet on which we depend one-on-one for everything that allows us to live, and at the same time dream of human life on another planet.

While I see no reason to address the likes of King of Subsidies Elon Musk, Stephen Hawking is different. Unfortunately, in Hawking’s case, with all his intelligence, it’s his philosophical capacity that goes missing.

Humanity Will Not Survive Another 1,000 Years If We Don’t Escape Our Planet

Professor Stephen Hawking has warned humanity will not survive another 1,000 years on Earth unless the human race finds another planet to live on. [..] Professor Hawking, 74, reflected on the understanding of the universe garnered from breakthroughs over the past five decades, describing 2016 as a “glorious time to be alive and doing research into theoretical physics”. “Our picture of the universe has changed a great deal in the last 50 years and I am happy if I have made a small contribution,“ he went on.

”The fact that we humans, who are ourselves mere fundamental particles of nature, have been able to come this close to understanding the laws that govern us and the universe is certainly a triumph.” Highlighting “ambitious” experiments that will give an even more precise picture of the universe, he continued: “We will map the position of millions of galaxies with the help of [super] computers like Cosmos. We will better understand our place in the universe.”

“But we must also continue to go into space for the future of humanity. I don’t think we will survive another 1,000 years without escaping beyond our fragile planet.”

The tragedy is that we may have gained some knowledge of natural laws and the universe, but we are completely clueless when it comes to keeping ourselves from destroying our world. Mars is an easy cop-out. But Mars doesn’t solve a thing. Because it’s -obviously- not the ‘fragile planet’ earth that is a threat to mankind, it’s mankind itself. How then can escaping to another planet solve its problems?

What exactly is wrong with saying that we will have to make it here on planet earth? Is it that we’ve already broken and murdered so much? And if that’s the reason, what does that say about us, and what does it say about what we would do to a next planet, even provided we could settle on it (we can’t) ? Doesn’t it say that we are our own worst enemies? And doesn’t the very idea of settling the ‘next planet’ imply that we had better settle things right here first? Like sort of a first condition before we go to Mars, if we ever do?

In order to survive, we don’t need to escape our planet, we need to escape ourselves. Not nearly as easy. Much harder than escaping to Mars. Which already is nothing but a pipedream to begin with.

Moreover, if we can accept that settling things here first before going to Mars is a prerequisite for going there in the first place, we wouldn’t need to go anymore, right?

 

 

We treat this entire extinction episode as if it’s something we’re watching from the outside in, as if it’s something we’re not really a part of. I’ve seen various undoubtedly very well-intentioned ‘green people’, ‘sustainable people’, react to the WWF report by pointing to signs that there is still hope, pointing to projects that reverse some of the decline, chinook salmon on the North American Pacific coast, Malawi farmers that no longer use chemical fertilizers, a giant sanctuary in the Antarctic etc.

That, too, is a form of insanity. Because it serves to lull people into a state of complacency that is entirely unwarranted. And that can therefore only serve to make things worse. There is no reversal, there is no turnaround. It’s like saying if a body doesn’t fall straight down in a continuous line, it doesn’t fall down at all.

The role that green, sustainability, conservationist groups play in our societies has shifted dramatically, and we have failed completely to see this change (as have they). These groups have become integral parts of our societies, instead of a force on the outside warning about what happens within.

Conservationist groups today serve as apologists for the havoc mankind unleashes on its world: all people have to do is donate money at Christmas, and conservation will be taken care of. Recycle a few bottles and plastic wrappings and you’re doing your part to save the planet. It is utterly insane. It’s as insane as the destruction itself. It’s denial writ large, and in the flesh.

It’s not advertized that way, but that doesn’t mean it’s not how it works. Saying that ‘it’s not too late’ is not a call to action as many people continue to believe. It’s just dirt poor psychology. It provides people with the impression, which rapidly turns into an excuse, that there is still time left. As almost 70% of all vertebrates, those animals that are closest to us, have disappeared. When would they say time is up? At 80%, 90%?

 

 

We do not understand why, or even that, we are such a tragically destructive species. And perhaps we can’t. Perhaps that is where our intelligence stops, at providing insight into ourselves. Even the most ‘aware’ amongst us will still tend to disparage their own roles in what goes on. Even they will make whatever it is they still do, and that they know is hurtful to the ecosystem, seem smaller than it is.

Even they will search for apologies for their own behavior, tell themselves they must do certain things in order to live in the society they were born in, drive kids to school, yada yada. We all do that. We soothe our consciences by telling ourselves we mean well, and then getting into our cars to go pick up a carton of milk. Or engage in an equally blind act. There’s too many to mention.

Every species that finds a large amount of free energy reacts the same way: proliferation. The unconscious drive is to use up the energy as fast as possible. If only we could understand that. But understanding it would get in the way of the principle itself. The only thing we can do to stop the extinction is for all of us to use a lot less energy. But because energy consumption provides wealth and -more importantly- political power, we will not do that. We instead tell ourselves all we need to do is use different forms of energy.

Our inbuilt talent for denying and lying (to ourselves and others) makes it impossible for us to see that we have an inbuilt talent for denying and lying in the first place. Or, put another way, seeing that we haven’t been able to stop ourselves from putting the planet into the dismal shape it is in now, why should we keep on believing that we will be able to stop ourselves in the future?

Thing is, an apology for our own behavior is also an apology for everyone else’s. As long as you keep buying things wrapped in plastic, you have no right, you lose your right, to blame the industry that produces the plastic.

 

 

We see ourselves as highly intelligent, and -as a consequence- we see ourselves as a species driven by reason. But we are not. Which can be easily demonstrated by a ‘reverse question’: why, if we are so smart, do we find ourselves in the predicament of having destroyed two thirds of our planet?

Do we have a rational argument to execute that destruction? Of course not, we’ll say. But then why do we do it if rationality drives us? This is a question that should forever cure us of the idea that we are driven by reason. But we’re not listening to the answer to that question. We’re denying, we’re even denying the question itself.

It’s the same question, and the same answer, by the way, that will NOT have us ‘abandon whatever it is we do’ when we read today that 70% of all wildlife will be gone by 2020, that 58% was gone by 2012 and we destroy it at a rate of 2% per year. We’re much more likely to worry much more about some report that says returns on our retirement plans will be much lower than we thought. Or about the economic growth that is too low (as if that is possible with 70% of wildlife gone).

After all, if destroying 70% of wildlife is not enough for a call to action, what would be? 80%? 90? 99%? I bet you that would be too late. And no, relying on conservationist groups to take care of it for us is not a viable route. Because that same 70% number spells out loud and clear what miserable failures these groups have turned out to be.

We ‘assume’ we’re intelligent, because that makes us feel good. Well, it doesn’t make the planet feel good. What drives us is not reason. What drives us is the part of our brains that we share in common with amoeba and bacteria and all other more ‘primitive forms of life, that gobbles up excess energy as fast as possible, in order to restore a balance. Our ‘rational’, human, brain serves one function, and one only: to find ‘rational’ excuses for what our primitive brain has just made us do.

We’re all intelligent enough to understand that driving a hybrid car or an electric car does nothing to halt the havoc we do to our world, but there are still millions of these things being sold. So perhaps we could say that we’re at the same time intelligent enough, and we’re not.

We can see ourselves destroying our world, but we can not stop ourselves from continuing the destruction. Here’s something I wrote 5 years ago:

Most. Tragic. Species. Ever.

We have done exactly the same that any primitive life form would do when faced with a surplus, of food, energy, and in our case credit, cheap money. We spent it all as fast as we can. Lest less abundant times arrive. It’s an instinct, it comes from our more primitive brain segments, not our more “rational” frontal cortex. It’s not that we’re in principle, or talent, more devious or malicious than more primitive life forms. It’s that we use our more advanced brains to help us execute the same devastation our primitive brain drives us to, but much much worse.

That’s what makes us the most tragic species imaginable. We’ll fight each other, even our children, over the last few scraps falling off the table, and kill off everything in our path to get there. And when we’re done, we’ll find a way to rationalize to ourselves why we were right to do so. We can be aware of watching ourselves do what we do, but we can’t help ourselves from doing it. Most. Tragic. Species. Ever.

The greatest miracle you will ever see, that you could ever hope to see, is so miraculous you can’t even recognize it for what it is. We don’t know what the word beautiful means anymore. Or the word valuable. We’ve lost all of that, and are well on our way, well over 70% of it, to losing the rest too.

 

 

 

PS Please note I could not gather all sources for all pictures here, but I’d be more than happy to add them. It’s not that I don’t recognize the effort that goes into them; it’s an emotional thing.

 

 

Jun 042018
 


Roy Lichtenstein Crying girl 1964

 

This Is Why The Global Collapse Will Be Devastating (von Greyerz)
If Trump Wants To Win A Trade War, The Market Has To Crash – Goldman (ZH)
Deutsche Bank Faces Another Challenge With Fed Stress Test (R.)
The Big Con: How Neoliberals Convinced Us There Wasn’t Enough To Go Around (G.)
Greece Relaxes Capital Controls To Prove Worst Of Turmoil Is Over (G.)
Australia’s Commonwealth Bank Agrees To $530M Fine Over Money-Laundering (AFP)
Merkel’s Comeuppance is Europe’s – and the World’s – Misfortune (Varoufakis)
Dozens Drown After Migrant Boat Sinks Off Tunisia Coast (G.)
Six Children, Three Adult Migrants Drown Off Turkish Coast (AFP)
Bayer To Close Monsanto Takeover, To Retire Target’s Name (R.)
Global Airport Capacity Crisis Amid Passenger Boom (AFP)
Eerie Silence Falls On Shetland Cliffs That Once Echoed Seabirds’ Cries (G.)
Notes on Heartache and Chaos (Jim Kunstler)

 

 

“.. If the above forecast of a major fall in the population as well as a substantial increase in debt is even vaguely accurate, Italy is on its way to the Dark Ages..”

This Is Why The Global Collapse Will Be Devastating (von Greyerz)

“The ECB (European Central Bank) just had its 20th birthday. But there is really nothing to celebrate. The EU is in a total mess and the Euro, which was launched on January 1, 1999, is a failed currency. Every president of the ECB has had to deal with fires that had very little to do with price stability but were more a question of survival. Most of these fires were a lot more serious than the candles in the Euro cake above which Draghi is trying to blow out. During the Frenchman Trichet’s watch, he had to deal with the Great Financial Crisis that started in 2006…

[..] The EU now has major economic and/or political problems in many countries. Italy’s new coalition government is a protest against the EU and Euro. With debt to GDP already the highest in Europe, the new regime will exacerbate the problems. Lower taxes and higher spending will guarantee that. As the chart below shows, Italian debt to GDP is already 140%. By 2050 this is projected to grow to 210%. As interest rates go up, servicing the growing debt will soon absorb all tax revenue. Italy will be bankrupt long before 2050 and default on all its debt.

Between now and 2050, the Italian working age population is forecast to decline by 1/3, from 36 million to 24 million. There will be a lot less people to pay for a much higher debt.

The consequences of massive debt, economic stagnation and population decline will be a much lower GDP, which is expected to decline 35% by 2050.

If the above forecast of a major fall in the population as well as a substantial increase in debt is even vaguely accurate, Italy is on its way to the Dark Ages. I must stress here that I find it so sad that this glorious country is suffering so much already and will suffer a lot more. Personally I love Italy — the people, the food, the architecture, the history and the Giola di Vivere (joie de vivre) of the Italians. It will be so tragic to see all of this disintegrate. Hopefully it will take a long time, although, sadly, the crisis might actually be around the corner.

But Italy is just one of many countries which will collapse in coming years. Spain is in a similar situation and the prime minister has just been kicked out. Greece’s problems have never been resolved and this fine country is also bankrupt and so are the Greek banks. I could go on with Portugal, France, Ireland, the UK and many others. Most of these countries have insoluble problems. It is only a matter of degree and time when the EU/Eurozone house of cards comes down.

Read more …

To make tariffs threats credible.

If Trump Wants To Win A Trade War, The Market Has To Crash – Goldman (ZH)

[..] to maintain leverage in negotiations, the Administration must convince trading partners that the US intends to impose trade restrictions. However, and this is the key part, “it is unlikely that the White House can convince trading partners that tariff threats are credible without also convincing financial markets.” In other words, for Trump’s trade negotiations to be successful, and for US trade partners to take a flip-flopping Trump credibly, the market has to crash. Incidentally, this makes sense when one considers that when Trump officially launched the trade war with China in early April, the president explicitly warned that stocks “may take a hit”, and told investors to prepare for “pain” in the market, a statement which promptly became a self-fulfilling prophecy and sent the market sharply lower.

The other consequence is that markets may tumble not as an effect, but as a cause of the trade war: after all Trump needs to be taken seriously, and that could mean another slide in the S&P. Goldman agrees as much: “… we do not expect trade policy risks to fade anytime soon. While we think that financial market sentiment around trade issues is unlikely to become as negative again as it was in early April, when the President floated the possibility of tariffs on another $100 billion in imports from China, we do not expect markets to become entirely comfortable with the outlook for trade policy, either.”

The punchline: “The challenge that the White House faces is that, to maintain leverage in negotiations, trading partners must believe that the US intends to follow through with proposed actions like tariffs. However, repeated threats begin to lose credibility unless they are followed up with action.” In short, just as China said earlier, the US can’t have its cake and eat it too: Trump can’t have trade war, or the threat thereof, and record high stocks.

Read more …

It’s going to be public. But can the Fed afford to damage Deutsche?

Deutsche Bank Faces Another Challenge With Fed Stress Test (R.)

Deutsche Bank AG will face another challenge this month when the Federal Reserve publishes the results of a “stress test” on the bulk of its U.S. operations for the first time. Germany’s largest lender is already facing challenges with U.S. bank regulators and in financial markets, with its stock price falling to historic lows on Thursday. Standard & Poor’s downgraded its credit rating to BBB+ from A- on Friday. The downgrade came after reports earlier in the week that the Fed designated one of Deutsche Bank’s U.S. businesses as “troubled” last year, something a person with knowledge of the matter confirmed to Reuters on Friday. The Fed’s stress test results, expected to be released sometime this month, will be the next big public barometer of Deutsche Bank’s financial strength.

It could be difficult for a bank with a subsidiary on the “troubled” list to pass the scenarios, according to a person familiar with the tests who was not authorized to speak publicly. That is because the capital, liquidity and risk management failures that would land a bank on the list are similar to those that lead banks to flunk the stress test, the person said. The Fed has been examining how the biggest U.S. banks would handle a range of adverse economic and market scenarios since 2009, requiring many to shore up their capital buffers and risk management controls. But this is the first year it will publicly release results of six foreign lenders, including Deutsche Bank, after requiring them to create consolidated U.S. holding companies with ring-fenced capital. The Fed tested those new entities last year in a trial run, the results of which are confidential.

Read more …

Austerity eats people.

The Big Con: How Neoliberals Convinced Us There Wasn’t Enough To Go Around (G.)

Australia just experienced one of the biggest mining booms in world history. But even at the peak of that boom, there was no talk of the wonderful opportunity we finally had to invest in world-class mental health or domestic violence crisis services. Nor was there much talk from either major party about how the wealth of the mining boom gave us a once-in-a-generation opportunity to invest in remote Indigenous communities. Nope, the peak of the mining boom was not the time to help those who had missed out in decades past, but the Howard government thought it was a great time to introduce permanent tax cuts for high-income earners. These, of course, are the tax cuts that caused the budget deficits we have today.

Millions of tonnes of explosives were used during the mining boom to build more than 100 new mines, but it wasn’t just prime farmland that was blasted away in the boom, it was access to the middle class. At the same time that Gina Rinehart was becoming the world’s richest woman on the back of rising iron-ore prices, those on the minimum wage were falling further and further behind their fellow Australians. Australia isn’t poor; it is rich beyond the imagining of anyone living in the 1970s or ’80s. But so much of that new wealth has been vacuumed up by a few, and so little of that new wealth has been paid in tax, that the public has been convinced that ours is a country struggling to pay its bills.

Convincing Australians that our nation is poor and that our governments “can’t afford” to provide the level of services they provided in the past has not just helped to lower our expectations of our public services and infrastructure, it has helped to lower our expectations of democracy itself. A public school in Sydney has had to ban kids from running in the playground because it was so overcrowded. Trains have become so crowded at peak hours that many people, especially the frail and the disabled, are reluctant to use them.

Read more …

Relax capital controls when nobody has any money left to get out of the bank.

Greece Relaxes Capital Controls To Prove Worst Of Turmoil Is Over (G.)

Greece is to take a substantial step towards easing capital controls – restrictions associated with the worst days of economic crisis – as it prepares to exit its current bailout programme. Signalling that confidence is gradually returning to the country’s banking system, the leftist-led government has doubled the amount depositors will be able to withdraw from their accounts as of Monday. “As is usually the case with the economy, this is about psychology,” said a senior official at the Bank of Greece. “The relaxation is as much about boosting confidence among investors and savers as showing banks can now afford to work under normal conditions.” Barely three months before its third international bailout programme expires, the country once at the epicentre of the euro crisis is keen to prove its financial turmoil is over.

Under the new rules, the limit on cash withdrawals from local banks will be raised from €2,300 to €5,000 per month. Business transactions will also be facilitated, with cash transfers abroad being doubled to €40,000 a month. The Greek finance ministry said it had similarly decided to increase the amount depositors can take abroad, in euros or foreign currency, from €2,300 to €3,000 per trip. From 1 July, banks will be allowed to accept customer orders for money transfers overseas for up to €4,000 bi-monthly. In a statement the finance ministry said the aim was to fully lift restrictions “as soon as possible” while ensuring macroeconomic and financial stability.

Read more …

“serious and systemic non-compliance” of anti-money laundering laws more than 53,000 times…”

Australia’s Commonwealth Bank Agrees To $530M Fine Over Money-Laundering (AFP)

The Commonwealth Bank Monday agreed to the largest civil penalty in Australian corporate history to settle claims it breached anti-money laundering and counter-terrorism financing laws. The Aus$700 million (US$530 million) fine – which is subject to court approval – comes after mediation between the nation’s biggest lender and the country’s financial intelligence agency AUSTRAC. It follows the bank being taken to court last August for “serious and systemic non-compliance” of anti-money laundering laws more than 53,000 times, with AUSTRAC filing 100 further claims in December. CBA was also accused of failing to adequately monitor suspected terrorist financiers.

“While not deliberate, we fully appreciate the seriousness of the mistakes we made,” said CBA chief executive Matt Comyn in a statement. “Our agreement today is a clear acknowledgement of our failures and is an important step towards moving the bank forward. On behalf of Commonwealth Bank, I apologise to the community for letting them down.” The bank, which in the fallout has replaced senior leadership overseeing financial crimes and pumped millions of dollars into improving its systems, also agreed to pay AUSTRAC’s Aus$2.5 million legal fees.

After slumping more than 10 percent over the past month, during which it admitted losing financial records for almost 20 million customers, CBA’s share price rallied 1.44 percent on the settlement to close at Aus$69.69. The scandal is only the latest issue to damage the reputation of Australian banks, which have been under intense scrutiny amid allegations of dodgy financial advice, life insurance and mortgage fraud, and rigging benchmark interest rates. Last week, ANZ Bank was accused of “cartel arrangements” over a multi-billion-dollar capital raising, along with its advisers Deutsche Bank and Citigroup. They face potential criminal charges.

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Germany blows up the EU in slow motion.

Merkel’s Comeuppance is Europe’s – and the World’s – Misfortune (Varoufakis)

The causal link between Germany’s two political headaches has an economic basis. Trump understands one thing well: Germany and the eurozone are at his mercy, owing to their increasing dependence on large net exports to the US and the rest of the world. And this dependence has grown inexorably as a result of the austerity policies that were first tried out in Greece and then implemented in Italy and elsewhere.

To see the link, recall the “fiscal compact” to eliminate structural budget deficits that Germany insisted upon as a condition of agreeing to bailout loans for distressed governments and banks. Then note that this pan-European austerity drive took place against the backdrop of massive excess savings over investment. Finally, note that large excess savings and balanced government budgets necessarily mean large trade surpluses – and thus the increasing reliance of Germany, and Europe, on massive net exports to the United States and Asia. In other words, the same incompetent policies that gave rise to the xenophobic, anti-Europeanist Italian government also bolstered Trump’s power over Merkel.

Europe’s inability to get its own house in order has engendered a new Italian majority that is planning to expel a half-million migrants, blowing fresh winds into the sails of militant racists in Hungary, Poland, France, Britain, the Netherlands, and, of course, Germany itself. Meanwhile, with Europe too enfeebled to tame Trump, the US will aim to force China to deregulate its financial and tech sectors. If it succeeds, at least 15% of China’s national income will gush out of the country, adding to the deflationary forces that are breeding political monsters in Europe and in the US.

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And still no UN emergency meeting. The shame will not wash away.

Dozens Drown After Migrant Boat Sinks Off Tunisia Coast (G.)

At least 47 people died and 68 others were rescued after their migrant boat sank off Tunisia’s southern coast, according to the country’s defence ministry. Authorities said about 180 people, of both Tunisian and other nationalities, were hemmed in onboard the vessel. A survivor said the captain had abandoned the boat after it hit trouble in order to escape arrest. “I survived by clinging to wood for nine hours,” he told Reuters from a hospital in the city of Sfax where people were arriving in search of relatives and friends. Flavio Di Giacomo, a spokesman for the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), warned on Twitter that the final number of missing was still not known.

Tunisia has recently seen growing use of its coasts by human traffickers ferrying migrants from Africa to Europe, as Libyan authorities have cracked down on similar activity on their own shores. Tunisia has been suffering from an economic crisis since the toppling of Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali as president in 2011, which led to rocketing unemployment and inflation. In a separate incident, nine people including six children were killed off the coast of Turkey on Sunday after their speedboat sank, the Turkish coast guard said. By 30 May, the IOM had recorded 32,080 people as having reached Europe by boat in 2018 and around 660 as having died or gone missing in the attempt.

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And there’s always more.

Six Children, Three Adult Migrants Drown Off Turkish Coast (AFP)

Nine migrants, including six children, seeking to head to Europe in a speedboat drowned on Sunday when the vessel sank off Turkey’s Mediterranean coast, state media reports said. The boat hit trouble off the Demre district of Turkey’s Mediterranean Antalya province, a popular holiday spot, the state-run Anadolu news agency said. Five were rescued while one person was still missing, it added. Two adults, one woman and six children lost their lives, it said. The Dogan news agency said that they were seeking to head illegally to Europe but their planned route was not immediately clear. The nearest EU territory is the small Greek island of Kastellorizo to the west which lies off the Turkish resort of Kas.

The nationalities of those on board have yet to be made clear. Over a million people, many fleeing the war in Syria, crossed to European Union member Greece from Turkey in 2015 after the onset of the bloc’s worst migration crisis since World War II. [..] According to the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), 10,948 people crossed to Greece this year up to May 30, sharply more than in the same period in 2017. Thirty-five people lost their lives using this route so far this year, according to the IOM. As well as migrants from countries such as Syria, Eritrea, Iraq and Afghanistan, the route has been used by Turkish citizens fleeing the crackdown that followed the 2016 failed coup.

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Bayer wants to get rid of the bad name Monsanto has. Let’s give Bayer an even worse name.

Bayer To Close Monsanto Takeover, To Retire Target’s Name (R.)

Germany’s Bayer will wrap up the $62.5 billion takeover of Monsanto on Thursday this week and also retire the name of the U.S. seeds maker, it said on Monday. The German drugmaker had received all required approvals from regulatory authorities, it said in a statement. “Bayer will remain the company name. Monsanto will no longer be a company name. The acquired products will retain their brand names and become part of the Bayer portfolio,” it said. Bayer launched a 6 billion euro ($7 billion) rights issue on Sunday, a cornerstone of the financing package for the deal.

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Yeah. We need more air travel. Without counting the externalities.

Global Airport Capacity Crisis Amid Passenger Boom (AFP)

Governments need to urgently tackle a capacity crisis facing airports as demand for international travel grows, but they should be cautious about private sector involvement, airline industry group IATA warned Monday. With passenger levels projected to nearly double to 7.8 billion by 2036, infrastructure such as airports and air traffic control systems were not keeping pace, the International Air Transport Association said. Major airports have sought to address the crisis by managing slots — giving airlines specific operating rights at particular times. But there was still a need for new airports, IATA chief Alexandre de Juniac said at the body’s annual meeting in Sydney.

“We are in a capacity crisis. And we don’t see the required airport infrastructure investment to solve it,” he said, adding that cash-strapped governments were increasingly turning to private firms to increase airport capacity. But he cautioned against privatised airports, warning that they have “not lived up to airline expectations” with many carriers having “far too many bitter experiences”. [..] IATA Monday projected global air passenger traffic to rise by 6.5 percent this year to 4.36 billion, after increases of 7.0 and 7.3 percent in 2016 and 2017 respectively.

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Not sure it’s wise to blame this on climate change. The extinction stories come too fast. How about blaming Monsanto and booming air travel?

Eerie Silence Falls On Shetland Cliffs That Once Echoed Seabirds’ Cries (G.)

Sumburgh Head lies at the southern tip of mainland Shetland. This dramatic 100-metre-high rocky spur, crowned with a lighthouse built by Robert Louis Stevenson’s grandfather, has a reputation for being one of the biggest and most accessible seabird colonies in Britain. Thousands of puffins, guillemots, razorbills, kittiwakes and fulmars gather there every spring to breed, covering almost every square inch of rock or grass with teeming, screeching birds and their young. Or at least they used to – for this year Sumburgh Head is a quiet and largely deserted place. Where seabirds once swooped and cried in their thousands, only a handful of birds wheel round the cliffs.

The silence is uncanny – the result of a crash in seabird numbers that has been in progress for several years but which has now reached an unprecedented, catastrophic low. One of the nation’s most important conservation centres has been denuded of its wildlife, a victim – according to scientists – of climate change, which has disrupted food chains in the North Sea and North Atlantic and left many seabirds without a source of sustenance. The result has been an apocalyptic drop in numbers of Arctic terns, kittiwakes and many other birds. “In the past, Sumburgh Head was brimming with birds, and the air was thick with the smell of guano. The place was covered with colonies of puffins, kittiwakes, fulmars, and guillemots,” said Helen Moncrieff, manager of RSPB Scotland’s office in Shetland.

“There were thousands and thousands of birds and visitors were guaranteed a sight of puffins. Today they have to be very patient. At the same time, guillemots have halved in numbers. It is utterly tragic.” This grim description is backed by figures that reveal the staggering decreases in seabird numbers in Shetland, the most northerly part of the British Isles. In 2000, there were more than 33,000 puffins on the island in early spring. That figure dropped to 570 last year and there are no signs of any recovery this year, although it is still early in the season. Similarly, Shetland’s kittiwake population plummeted from over 55,000 in 1981 to 5,000 in 2011, and observers believe those numbers have declined even further in the past few years.

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Absolutely wonderful from Jim.

Notes on Heartache and Chaos (Jim Kunstler)

I was interviewing a couple of homesteaders on an island north of Seattle at twilight last night when they noticed that the twelve-year-old family dog, name of Lacy, had not come home for dinner as ever and always at that hour. A search ensued and they soon found her dead in the meadow a hundred feet behind the house with two big puncture wounds in her body. Nobody had heard a gunshot. We’d just been talking inside and a nearby window was open. They suspect the dog met up with a black-tailed deer buck out there and was gored to death. We hadn’t heard a yelp, or anything. A week ago, an eagle got one of their geese, and some land-based monster got its companion just the other day.

Nature is what it is, of course, and it’s natural for human beings to think of its random operations as malevolent. That aspersion probably inclines us to think of ourselves as beings apart from nature (some of us, anyway). We at least recognize the tragic side of this condition we’re immersed in, and would wish that encounters between its denizens might end differently — like maybe that two sovereign creatures meeting up by sheer chance on a mild spring evening would exchange pleasantries, ask what each was up to, and go on their ways.

Malevolent nature visited me the night before, back home in upstate New York. Something slit the screened window of my henhouse, got inside, and slaughtered two of my birds. Big Red was missing altogether except for a drift of orange feathers. I found Little Blue just outside in a drift of her own feathers, half-eaten. I suspect a raccoon got them, slitting the window screen cleverly with its dexterous hand-like paws — yes, so much like our own clever hands. (In classic after-the-fact human style, I fortified the window with steel hardware cloth the next day.)

It’s the time of year when the wild critters of field and woodland are birthing their young and anxious to procure food for them. Who can blame them for that. Chicken is an excellent dish. I eat it myself, though never my own hens. I actually rescued Little Blue from the clutches of a red-tailed hawk last year as the hawk struggled to get airborne with her and let go as I screeched at it. Blue recovered from the talon punctures and had a good year — one good year on this earth with all its menace, when it is not busy being beautiful.

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 April 23, 2018  Posted by at 9:49 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


Russell Lee Highway tavern. Crystal City, Texas 1939

 

A Google Breakup Would Fit the EU’s Logic (BBG)
Customs Union U-Turn By May Could Inspire Brexiter Cabinet Revolt (G.)
The Windrush Story Was Not A Rosy One Even Before The Ship Arrived (G.)
Britain, Headquarters Of Fraud (G.)
China Q1 Imports From North Korea Fall 87% Year-On-Year (R.)
How China Is Buying Its Way Into Europe (BBG)
China Factory Crackdown Masks Sweeping Takeover By The State (BBG)
Canadians Just Set A New Record For Borrowing Against Their Homes (BD)
MSM Is Frantically Attacking Dissenting Syria Narratives (CJ)
WikiLeaks To Countersue Democrats; “Discovery Is Going To Be Amazing Fun” (ZH)
One In Eight Bird Species Is Threatened With Extinction (G.)

 

 

Does Google think it can win this?

A Google Breakup Would Fit the EU’s Logic (BBG)

On Thursday, the European Parliament backed the idea of breaking up Google. It doesn’t have the power to do it, but the legislators’ decision is a notable part of a backlash against the remedial action Google took after the European Commission fined it 2.4 billion euros ($2.95 billion) for abusing its dominant position in shopping search. That backlash can lead to dire consequences for the search giant. The commission found last June that by giving its own product comparison service, Google Shopping, prime “real estate” at the top search result pages, Google was hampering competition for independent shopping comparison websites. The company’s remedy is to hold auctions for spaces in the special box in which comparison results appear if a user searches for a product to buy.

Google Shopping bids in these auctions on the same terms as its rivals, and Google has promised to keep the service profitable so it can’t outbid the competition every time with the company’s vastly superior resources. Yet, months after the remedy was applied, it’s next to impossible to run into a non-Google offer in that box. The original complainants, notably the U.K. firm Foundem, have been campaigning to have Google declared non-compliant. Foundem’s argument is laid out in an interactive presentation released on April 18. The British company argues that even though Google claims to run Google Shopping at arm’s length, it’s merely an obfuscation, a meaningless accounting arrangement. In reality, Google as a whole still harvests 100% of the profit from the ads in runs after winning auctions – plus 80% of the profits from competing services’ ads in the form of their winning bids.

“While Google’s promise to run Google Shopping at a notional ‘profit’ may allow rival services to bid their way into ‘the box,’ it does nothing to address the seismic inequality between bids that cost you nothing and bids that cost you most of your incentive and ability to innovate and grow,” Foundem wrote in the presentation. The annual report on competition policy from the European Parliament’s Committee on Economic and Monetary Affairs, which the legislature approved on Thursday, shows that at least some in the “Brussels bubble” that rules the EU are receptive to Foundem’s argument. “Without a full-blown structural separation between the company’s general and specialised search services, an auction-based approach might not deliver equal treatment,” the report says.

[..] If Google is declared non-compliant, its parent company, Alphabet Inc., can be forced to pay up to 5 percent of its daily turnover for every day that it has violated the commission’s ruling, meaning, theoretically, since last September. Taking Alphabet’s average daily revenue in the fourth quarter of 2017 as a base, that’s about $17.6 million a day for seven months and counting. This could end up being worse than the original fine, which Google is appealing. Even a breakup could be preferable to paying this sort of penalty for a protracted period.

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The mess spreads.

Customs Union U-Turn By May Could Inspire Brexiter Cabinet Revolt (G.)

Theresa May could face a cabinet revolt on a customs union as peers prepare to inflict more defeats on the government over the EU withdrawal bill in a key week for the future of the UK’s relations with Europe. Amid Brexiter threats of a leadership challenge, the former cabinet minister Nicky Morgan, who chairs the Treasury committee, said party rebels should be careful what they wished for. “This sabre-rattling is not coming from the section of the party that I represent. It is coming from the pro-Brexit section of the party and is deeply unhelpful,” she said. Government hopes of avoiding a hard border in Ireland either through technological innovation or regulatory alignment have been set back after they were rejected during preliminary negotiations in Brussels.

That has led to speculation that May is preparing to concede on a customs union, which has been a red line since the prime minister’s conference speech in October 2016. Reports over the weekend suggested a “wargaming” exercise into the consequences of a concession showed that not even leading Brexiters such as Michael Gove, the environment secretary, or Boris Johnson, the foreign secretary, would resign. But a source close to Gove reiterated his opposition: “Michael believes respecting the referendum result means taking back control of trade policy. He fully supports the prime minister’s position that this means leaving the customs union.” Although the loss of other pledges in negotiations have been reluctantly accepted, such as the promise to reclaim control over fishing quotas from March 2019, accepting continued membership of a customs union would be of a different and much larger scale.

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Superiority complex writ large

The Windrush Story Was Not A Rosy One Even Before The Ship Arrived (G.)

This is a year so overflowing with anniversaries that it was perhaps always going to draw our attention to the histories of race and migration in Britain. June marks the 70th anniversary of the arrival of the Empire Windrush at Tilbury Docks, carrying 492 West Indians who were looking to rewrite their fortunes in a Britain desperate for labour. The Windrush is now so much part of British history that almost instantly it became the shorthand used to describe the generation of black Britons whose plight has so shocked the country.

Friday 20 April was an anniversary of a darker kind, 50 years since Enoch Powell delivered his “rivers of blood” speech. That toxic diatribe, with its unsubtle references to “piccaninnies” and the “whip hand”, remains politically radioactive half a century later, as Radio 4 discovered last weekend when it broadcast the speech in an anniversary documentary. Today is the sombre anniversary of the murder of Stephen Lawrence, 25 years ago.

But there is another 2018 anniversary that, until last week, might well had passed by quietly, hardly noticed. This year marks 70 years since the passing of the 1948 British Nationality Act, which was being debated while the Windrush was crossing the Atlantic; gaining royal ascent in July 1948, as the Windrush pioneers were settling into their new jobs. Although now obscure, it was a law that Powell once referred to as “that most evil statute”. Much of what has happened over the past week can be traced back to that forgotten but critical piece of legislation. The act was intended to reaffirm what many in the late 1940s regarded as a “time-honoured principle”, the doctrine that all British subjects should have the automatic right to travel to and settle in the United Kingdom.

[..] Even before the Windrush had left Jamaica, the prime minister, Clement Attlee, had examined the possibility of preventing its embarkation or diverting the ship and the migrants on board to East Africa. After the vessel had arrived at Tilbury, the colonial secretary, Arthur Creech Jones, is said to have reassured his cabinet colleagues that, although “these people have British passports and must be allowed to land there’s nothing to worry about because they won’t last one winter in England” (detailed in Randall Hansen’s book Citizenship and Immigration in Post-War Britain). When that prediction was proved false, ministers began to consider how they might revoke the commitments enshrined in the 1948 act.

What followed was a two decade-long political struggle to change Britain’s immigration law and reduce the flow of immigrants from the so-called New Commonwealth. This is the other side of the Windrush story. In 1971, a new immigration act finally achieved that aim and stemmed the flow of migrants from the New Commonwealth. The same law granted those who had already arrived indefinite leave to remain. That would have been the end of the story, had not, in 2013, those thousands been pushed into Theresa May’s “hostile environment”. The current crisis is a relic left by the political struggle to row back from the commitments made in the 1948 act.

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Competition for the title is stiff.

Britain, Headquarters Of Fraud (G.)

Officials get fed up with accusations that Britain is a cesspool of dirty money; that they do too little to check the wealth hidden behind shell corporations. They grouse among themselves that their critics overlook the work they’re doing to expose the money flows and to drive out the corrupt. When they do get a win, therefore, they trumpet it. Last month, Companies House successfully prosecuted someone who had lied in setting up a company, the kind of white-collar crime committed by the sophisticated fraudsters who fleece ordinary Brits every day, and the government went large. “This prosecution – the first of its kind in the UK – shows the government will come down hard on people who knowingly break the law and file false information on the company register,” crowed business minister, Andrew Griffiths, in a press release.

A Warwickshire businessman called Kevin Brewer had pleaded guilty, paid a fine and the government’s costs: a total of more than £12,000. His crime had been to falsely claim that two companies he created belonged, in one case, to the MP Vince Cable, and, in the other, to the MP James Cleverly, Lady Neville-Rolfe and an imaginary Israeli. At first, the public response to the news was everything the press release’s authors could have hoped for. The Times splashed with the details of the crime – the government was tough on fraud, tough on the causes of fraud. But the victory was short-lived.

Within a month of the triumphant press release, Tory MP John Penrose, the government’s anti-corruption champion, was slamming the prosecution as “a bone-headed exercise in shooting the messenger”. Brewer may have been, by his own admission, naive, but he was trying to expose a flaw in British regulations that enables frauds totalling hundreds of billions of pounds. His reward was years of being ignored and, finally, a criminal record. “That has to be wrong,” said Penrose.

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Can we check this?

China Q1 Imports From North Korea Fall 87% Year-On-Year (R.)

China’s imports from North Korea fell 87% in the first quarter from a year earlier to 448.8 million yuan ($71.31 million), customs data showed on Monday, while exports to North Korea were down 46.1% to 2.68 billion yuan. For March, China’s exports to North Korea were 907.54 million yuan while imports from North Korea were 78.5 million yuan. China’s March total trade with North Korea was 986.07 million yuan, customs data showed.

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Cue protectionism.

How China Is Buying Its Way Into Europe (BBG)

For more than a decade, Chinese political and corporate leaders have been scouring the globe with seemingly bottomless wallets in hand. From Asia to Africa, the U.S. and Latin America, the results are hard to ignore as China has asserted itself as an emerging world power. Less well known is China’s diffuse but expanding footprint in Europe. Bloomberg has crunched the numbers to compile the most comprehensive audit to date of China’s presence in Europe. It shows that China has bought or invested in assets amounting to at least $318 billion over the past 10 years. The continent saw roughly 45% more China-related activity than the U.S. during this period, in dollar terms, according to available data.

The volume and nature of some of these investments, from critical infrastructure in eastern and southern Europe to high-tech companies in the west, have raised a red flag at the EU level. Leaders that include Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron are pressing for a common strategy to handle China’s relentless advance into Europe, with some opposition from the EU’s periphery. We analyzed data for 678 completed or pending deals in 30 countries since 2008 for which financial terms were released, and found that Chinese state-backed and private companies have been involved in deals worth at least $255 billion across the European continent. Approximately 360 companies have been taken over, from Italian tire maker Pirelli to Irish aircraft leasing company Avolon, while Chinese entities also partially or wholly own at least four airports, six seaports, wind farms in at least nine countries and 13 professional soccer teams.

Importantly, the available figures underestimate the true size and scope of China’s ambitions in Europe. They notably exclude 355 mergers, investments and joint ventures—the primary types of deals examined here—for which terms were not disclosed. Bloomberg estimates or reporting on a dozen of the higher-profile deals among this group suggest an additional total value of $13.3 billion. Also not included: greenfield developments or stock-market operations totaling at least $40 billion, as compiled by researchers at the American Enterprise Institute and the European Council on Foreign Relations, plus a $9 billion stake in Mercedes-Benz parent company Daimler AG by Zhejiang Geely chairman Li Shufu reported by Bloomberg.

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Anbang was just the start.

China Factory Crackdown Masks Sweeping Takeover By The State (BBG)

President Xi Jinping’s big push to curb pollution and excess capacity in steel and other industries is also consolidating his government’s control over them. Just last year, the state’s share of steel capacity increased to 67% from 60% while aluminum smelting saw about an equal increase, J Capital Research estimates. In coal, which began consolidating years earlier, the government now controls 80% of capacity compared with about 45% in 2010, according to the Hong Kong-based firm. Xi’s campaign has boosted corporate profits, ended years of deflation, and stabilized debt growth to help underpin the first full-year economic acceleration last year since 2010.

But his aim for a “bigger, better and stronger” state role also means those bloated companies risk stifling private ones, as the Communist Party strengthens its grip on the economy. Call it “de facto nationalization,” says Jude Blanchette, China practice lead at Crumpton Group in Arlington, Virginia, and a former Conference Board researcher in Beijing. “We’re clearly seeing the re-strengthening of state-owned enterprises, oftentimes at the zero-sum expense of private players. Private folks are exiting the market either because they’re pushed out or they can’t survive.” State gains in heavy industry follow a broad SOE comeback since Xi took power in 2013. Their share of fixed-asset investment stopped falling in 2014 and rebounded over the next three years, says Andrew Batson at Gavekal Dragonomics.

The state is also extending control over the private sector away from heavy industry as it cracks down on debt. Once-acquisitive insurer Anbang Insurance was seized by the government, and regulators have curtailed the activities of conglomerates including Dalian Wanda and HNA. Such consolidation may spur blowback from the U.S. and other countries. President Donald Trump already brands China a strategic rival, slapping tariffs on its goods and criticizing industrial policy for subsidizing state enterprises in a push to dominate tech sectors.

“The idea, promoted during the Zhu Rongji era, that state enterprises should be independent, profit-seeking companies that just happen to be owned by the state has essentially been abandoned,” said Batson, referring to the former premier. “The government thinks that SOEs are there to serve its overall strategic goals.”

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Words fail.

Canadians Just Set A New Record For Borrowing Against Their Homes (BD)

Canadian real estate related debt tapering? That would be ridiculous! Filings obtained from the Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions (OSFI) show, after a brief decline in January, the balance of loans secured by residential real estate hit a new high in February. More interesting is the segment of loans being used for personal consumption, is growing at the fastest pace in years. Loans secured by residential real estate are exactly what they sound like. They’re loans that you pledge your home equity in order to secure. The most common example would be a Home Equity Line of Credit (HELOC). You know, the same type of loan the Canadian government is discretely paying to teach you how to borrow. There’s also more productive uses, like when you start a new business and need to use your home as security – just in case you aren’t able to pay your loan shark bank back.

Either way, debt is debt. The big difference to note is a loan secured for personal reasons, is considered non-productive. The borrower isn’t expected to take a calculated risk, in order to earn more money. A business loan is considered productive, since it might generate more money. This isn’t just our opinion, banks actually classify these loans separately in their filings. Today we’ll go through the aggregate of these numbers, then break them down segment by segment. Loans secured by real estate hit a new all-time high in February. The total balance of loans secured with real estate racked up to $283.65 billion, up 0.77% from the month before. This represents a 7.79% increase compared to the same month last year. It almost looked like Canadians were reeling that debt in January, with a tiny decline. Instead it made a monster move, more than making up the ground lost the month before.

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A media war.

MSM Is Frantically Attacking Dissenting Syria Narratives (CJ)

It’s getting too blatantly obvious, like a stranger coming up to you and talking about climate change while openly masturbating; what he is doing would eclipse interest in whatever he is saying. The frenetic publication of hit pieces against anyone who fails to fall in line with the establishment Syria narrative is fast becoming the real story here. Many of these recent hit pieces are coming out of the UK, which is interesting given the way a BBC reporter recently admonished her interviewee for questioning the official story about the alleged Douma chemical attacks because his words could hurt the “information war” effort against Russia.

If this view is widespread among British journalists (and recent headlines by the Times, the Independent and the Telegraph suggest that it may be), this means we’re looking at an environment wherein reporters aren’t even pretending it’s their job to be truthful, tell all sides of a story and hold power to account, but rather to manufacture support for escalations against Russia and undermine anyone who resists. Today yet another mainstream smear piece has been published about Vanessa Beeley, an investigative journalist who has done extensive work on the ground in Syria, which the UK’s Huffington Post branch hilariously titled “How An Obscure British Blogger Became Russia’s Key Witness Against The White Helmets”.

Its author, senior Huffpo editor Chris York, doesn’t explain how we’re meant to see an investigative journalist practicing the definition of investigative journalism on the ground in a war-torn nation as “an obscure blogger”, but he has said that he has two more such articles on the way. Who do these people think they’re kidding? Are we truly meant to believe that people expressing skepticism about the authenticity of a “civil defense group” in a distant Middle Eastern country is suddenly the most dangerous thing in the world?

Are we really meant to think it’s normal for all these mass media corporations to suddenly start ferociously attacking anyone who expresses skepticism about the military agendas of western forces that have an extensive and well-documented history of using lies, propaganda and false flags to manufacture support for military agendas? Are we really meant to believe that Syria, a nation for which the US and UK have been plotting regime change for many years, is just now in sore need of humanitarian regime change? And that anyone who says otherwise just loves Bashar al-Assad, Vladimir Putin and dead babies?

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I asked before: did the DNC think this through?

WikiLeaks To Countersue Democrats; “Discovery Is Going To Be Amazing Fun” (ZH)

WikiLeaks has hit back against a multimillion-dollar lawsuit filed by the Democratic National Committee (DNC), announcing over Twitter that they are seeking donations for a counter-suit, noting “We’ve never lost a publishing case and discovery is going to be amazing fun,” along with a link which people can use to donate to the organization. Discovery is a pre-trial process by which one party can obtain evidence from the opposing party relevant to the case. The Trump campaign, which is also named in the DNC filing, says the lawsuit will provide an opportunity to “explore the DNC’s now-secret records.”

Hours after the Washington Post broke the news of the lawsuit, President Trump tweeted “Just heard the Campaign was sued by the Obstructionist Democrats. This can be good news in that we will now counter for the DNC server that they refused to give to the FBI,” referring to the DNC email breach. Trump also mentioned “the Debbie Wasserman Schultz Servers and Documents held by the Pakistani mystery man and Clinton Emails.” In a statement which goes into the various items they’ll be pursuing in court, the Trump campaign said the following: “While this lawsuit is frivolous and will be dismissed, if the case goes forward, the DNC has created an opportunity for us to take aggressive discovery into their claims of ‘damages’ and uncover their acts of corruption for the American people..”

If this lawsuit proceeds, the Trump Campaign will be prepared to leverage the discovery process and explore the DNC’s now-secret records about the actual corruption they perpetrated to influence the outcome of the 2016 presidential election. Everything will be on the table, including: • How the DNC contributed to the fake dossier, using Fusion GPS along with the Clinton Campaign as the basis for the launch of a phony investigation. • Why the FBI was never allowed access to the DNC servers in the course of their investigation into the Clinton e-mail scandal. • How the DNC conspired to hand Hillary Clinton the nomination over Bernie Sanders. • How officials at the highest levels of the DNC colluded with the news media to influence the outcome of the DNC nomination. • Management decisions by Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Donna Brazile, Tom Perez, and John Podesta; their e-mails, personnel decisions, budgets, opposition research, and more.

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It’s much worse than the title suggests.

One In Eight Bird Species Is Threatened With Extinction (G.)

One in eight bird species is threatened with global extinction, and once widespread creatures such as the puffin, snowy owl and turtle dove are plummeting towards oblivion, according to the definitive study of global bird populations. The State of the World’s Birds, a five-year compendium of population data from the best-studied group of animals on the planet, reveals a biodiversity crisis driven by the expansion and intensification of agriculture. In all, 74% of 1,469 globally threatened birds are affected primarily by farming. Logging, invasive species and hunting are the other main threats.

“Each time we undertake this assessment we see slightly more species at risk of extinction – the situation is deteriorating and the trends are intensifying,” said Tris Allinson, senior global science officer for BirdLife International, which produced the report. “The species at risk of extinction were once on mountaintops or remote islands, such as the pink pigeon in Mauritius. Now we’re seeing once widespread and familiar species – European turtle doves, Atlantic puffins and kittiwakes – under threat of global extinction.” According to the report, at least 40% of bird species worldwide are in decline, with researchers blaming human activity for the losses.

After farming, logging is a key factor in declines of 50% of the most globally endangered species, followed by invasive species (39%), hunting and trapping (35%), climate change (33%) and residential and commercial development (28%). The illegal killing of birds – usually because of traditional hunting – results in an estimated 12 to 38 million individual birds dying or being taken each year in the Mediterranean region alone

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Mar 262018
 


Dorothea Lange Gravestone St. George, Utah 1953

 

There are numerous ways to define the Precautionary Principle. It’s something we can all intuitively understand, but which many parties seek ways to confuse since it has the potential to stand in the way of profits. Still, in the end it should all be about proof, not profits. That is exactly what the Principle addresses. Because if you first need to deliver scientific proof that some action or product can be harmful to mankind and/or the natural world, you run the risk of inflicting irreversible damage before that proof can be delivered.

In one of many definitions, the 1998 Wingspread Statement on the Precautionary Principle says: “When an activity raises threats of harm to human health or the environment, precautionary measures should be taken even if some cause and effect relationships are not fully established scientifically.”

Needless to say, that doesn’t easily fly in our age of science and money. Cigarette makers, car manufacturers and oil companies, just to name a few among a huge number of industries, are all literally making a killing while the Precautionary Principle is being ignored. Even as it is being cited in many international treaties. Lip service “R” us. Are these industries to blame when they sell us our products, or are we for buying them? That’s where governments must come in to educate us about risks. Which they obviously do not.

Nassim Nicholas Taleb -of Black Swan and Antifragile fame- has made the case, in his usual strong fashion, for applying the Precautionary Principle when it comes to GMOs. His argument is that allowing genetically modified organisms in our eco- and foodsystems carries unknown risks that we have no way of overseeing, and that these risks may cause irreversible damage to the very systems mankind relies on for survival.

Taleb is not popular among GMO producers. Who all insist there is no evidence that their products cause harm. But that is not the point. The Precautionary Principle, if it is to be applied, must turn the burden of proof on its head. The absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. Monsanto et al must prove that their products do no harm. They can not. Which is why they have, and need, huge lobbying, PR and legal departments.

 

But I didn’t want to talk about GMOs today, and not about Precautionary Principle alone. I wanted to talk about this: Paragraph 2 of article 191 of the European Union’s Lisbon Treaty (2009) states that:

“Union policy on the environment shall aim at a high level of protection taking into account the diversity of situations in the various regions of the Union. It shall be based on the precautionary principle and on the principles that preventive action should be taken, that environmental damage should as a priority be rectified at source and that the polluter should pay.”

In other words, the EU has committed itself to the Precautionary Principle. Well, on paper, that is. However, then we get to a whole series of reports on wildlife in Europe, and they indicate all sorts of things, but not that Brussels cares even one bit about adhering to the Precautionary Principle, either for its people or its living environment. One voice below calls it a “state of denial”, but I would use some other choice words. Let’s start with the Guardian this morning, because they have an interesting perspective:

Most Britons remain blithely unaware that since the Beatles broke up, we have wiped out half our wildlife…

since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, the number of flying insects on nature reserves in Germany had dropped by at least 76% – more than three-quarters…

Things like ‘since you were born’, ‘since man landed on the moon’, ‘since the wall came down’ or ‘since 9/11’ may be a bit clearer than 100 years, or 25 years. Moreover, I read somewhere that since Columbus landed in 1492, America has lost on third of all its biodiversity, but that doesn’t yet explain the rate of acceleration that is taking place.

In October last year, the Guardian had this:

 

Three-Quarters Of Flying Insects In Germany Have Vanished In 25 Years

The abundance of flying insects has plunged by three-quarters over the past 25 years , according to a new study that has shocked scientists. Insects are an integral part of life on Earth as both pollinators and prey for other wildlife and it was known that some species such as butterflies were declining. But the newly revealed scale of the losses to all insects has prompted warnings that the world is “on course for ecological Armageddon”, with profound impacts on human society.

The new data was gathered in nature reserves across Germany but has implications for all landscapes dominated by agriculture, the researchers said. The cause of the huge decline is as yet unclear, although the destruction of wild areas and widespread use of pesticides are the most likely factors and climate change may play a role. The scientists were able to rule out weather and changes to landscape in the reserves as causes, but data on pesticide levels has not been collected.

“The fact that the number of flying insects is decreasing at such a high rate in such a large area is an alarming discovery,” said Hans de Kroon, at Radboud University in the Netherlands and who led the new research. “Insects make up about two-thirds of all life on Earth [but] there has been some kind of horrific decline,” said Prof Dave Goulson of Sussex University, UK, and part of the team behind the new study. “We appear to be making vast tracts of land inhospitable to most forms of life , and are currently on course for ecological Armageddon. If we lose the insects then everything is going to collapse.”

[..] When the total weight of the insects in each sample was measured a startling decline was revealed. The annual average fell by 76% over the 27 year period, but the fall was even higher – 82% – in summer, when insect numbers reach their peak. Previous reports of insect declines have been limited to particular insects, such European grassland butterflies, which have fallen by 50% in recent decades. But the new research captured all flying insects, including wasps and flies which are rarely studied, making it a much stronger indicator of decline.

Then last week from AFP:

 

France’s Bird Population Collapses As Pesticides Kill Off Insects

Bird populations across the French countryside have fallen by a third over the last decade and a half, researchers have said. Dozens of species have seen their numbers decline, in some cases by two-thirds, the scientists said in a pair of studies – one national in scope and the other covering a large agricultural region in central France. “The situation is catastrophic,” said Benoit Fontaine, a conservation biologist at France’s National Museum of Natural History and co-author of one of the studies. “Our countryside is in the process of becoming a veritable desert,” he said in a communique released by the National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS), which also contributed to the findings.

The common white throat, the ortolan bunting, the Eurasian skylark and other once-ubiquitous species have all fallen off by at least a third, according a detailed, annual census initiated at the start of the century. A migratory song bird, the meadow pipit, has declined by nearly 70%. The museum described the pace and extent of the wipe-out as “a level approaching an ecological catastrophe”. The primary culprit, researchers speculate, is the intensive use of pesticides on vast tracts of monoculture crops, especially wheat and corn. The problem is not that birds are being poisoned, but that the insects on which they depend for food have disappeared.

“There are hardly any insects left, that’s the number one problem,” said Vincent Bretagnolle, a CNRS ecologist at the Centre for Biological Studies in Chize. Recent research, he noted, has uncovered similar trends across Europe, estimating that flying insects have declined by 80%, and bird populations has dropped by more than 400m in 30 years. Despite a government plan to cut pesticide use in half by 2020, sales in France have climbed steadily, reaching more than 75,000 tonnes of active ingredient in 2014, according to EU figures. “What is really alarming, is that all the birds in an agricultural setting are declining at the same speed, even ’generalist’ birds,” which also thrive in other settings such as wooded areas, said Bretagnolle.

Not that it’s just Europe, mind you. Still ‘ove’ this one from Gretchen Vogel in ScienceMag, about a year ago, on a phenomenon most of you stateside will have noticed too:

 

Where Have All The Insects Gone?

Entomologists call it the windshield phenomenon. “If you talk to people, they have a gut feeling. They remember how insects used to smash on your windscreen,” says Wolfgang Wägele, director of the Leibniz Institute for Animal Biodiversity in Bonn, Germany. Today, drivers spend less time scraping and scrubbing. “I’m a very data-driven person,” says Scott Black, executive director of the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation in Portland, Oregon. “But it is a visceral reaction when you realize you don’t see that mess anymore.”

Some people argue that cars today are more aerodynamic and therefore less deadly to insects. But Black says his pride and joy as a teenager in Nebraska was his 1969 Ford Mustang Mach 1—with some pretty sleek lines. “I used to have to wash my car all the time. It was always covered with insects.” Lately, Martin Sorg, an entomologist here, has seen the opposite: “I drive a Land Rover, with the aerodynamics of a refrigerator, and these days it stays clean.”

Though observations about splattered bugs aren’t scientific, few reliable data exist on the fate of important insect species. Scientists have tracked alarming declines in domesticated honey bees, monarch butterflies, and lightning bugs. But few have paid attention to the moths, hover flies, beetles, and countless other insects that buzz and flitter through the warm months. “We have a pretty good track record of ignoring most noncharismatic species,” which most insects are, says Joe Nocera, an ecologist at the University of New Brunswick in Canada.

After all those numbers, and before they get worse -which they will, it’s already baked in the cake-, you would expect the EU to remember the Precautionary Principle all its member nations signed on to for the Lisbon Treaty. You would expect wrong. Instead Brussels vows to continue with the exact same policies that have led to its mind-boggling biodiversity losses.

 

EU In ‘State Of Denial’ Over Destructive Impact Of Farming On Wildlife

Europe’s crisis of collapsing bird and insect numbers will worsen further over the next decade because the EU is in a “state of denial” over destructive farming practices, environmental groups are warning. European agriculture ministers are pushing for a new common agriculture policy (CAP) from 2021 to 2028 which maintains generous subsidies for big farmers and ineffectual or even “fake” environmental or “greening” measures, they say. In a week when two new studies revealed drastic declines in French farmland birds – a pattern repeated across Europe – the EU presidency claimed that the CAP continued to provide safe food while defending farmers and “protecting the environment”.

“The whole system is in a state of denial,” said Ariel Brunner, head of policy at Birdlife Europe. “Most agriculture ministers across Europe are just pushing for business as usual. The message is, keep the subsidies flowing.” Farm subsidies devour 38% of the EU budget and 80% of the subsidies go to just 20% of farmers , via “basic payments” which hand European landowners £39bn each year.

Because these payments are simply related to land area, big farmers receive more, can invest in more efficient food production – removing hedgerows to enlarge fields for instance – and put smaller, less intensive farmers out of business. France lost a quarter of its farm labourers in the first decade of the 21st century, while its average farm size continues to rise.

A smaller portion – £14.22bn annually – of EU farm subsidies support “greening” measures but basic payment rules work against wildlife-friendly farming: in Britain, farmers can’t receive basic payments for land featuring ponds, wide hedges, salt marsh or regenerating woodland. Signals from within the EU suggest that the next decade’s CAP [..] will continue to pay farmers a no-strings subsidy, while cash for “greening”, or wildlife-friendly farming, may even be cut. Birdlife Europe said the “greening” was mostly “fake environmental spending” and wildlife-friendly measures had been “shredded” by “loophole upon loophole” introduced by member states.

[..] This week studies revealed that the abundance of farmland birds in France had fallen by a third in 15 years – with population falls intensifying in the last two years. It’s a pattern repeated across Europe: farmland bird abundance in 28 European countries has fallen by 55% over three decades, according to the European Bird Census Council. Conservationists say it’s indicative of a wider crisis – particularly the decimation of insect life linked to neonicotinoid pesticides.

20% of farmers work 80% of the land in Europe. That is used as an argument to single them out to pay them billions in subsidies. But it simply means these 20% use the most detrimental farming methods, most pesticides, most chemicals. The subsidies policy guarantees further deterioration of an already disastrous situation. The polluter doesn’t pay, as the Lisbon Treaty demands, but the polluter gets paid.

And even that is apparently still not enough for the fast growing bureaucracy. In a move perhaps more characteristic of the EU than anything else, it approved something last week that a million people had vehemently protested: the Bayer-Monsanto merger. The European parliament may have thrown out all Monsanto lobbyists recently, and voted to ban Roundup, but the die has been cast.

A million citizens can protest in writing, many millions in France and Germany and elsewhere may do the same on the street, none of it matters. The people who brought you WWII nerve gases and Agent Orange can now come together to take over your food supply.

 

EU Approves Buyout Of Monsanto By German Chemical Firm Bayer

German conglomerate Bayer won EU antitrust approval on Wednesday for its $62.5bn (£44.5bn) buy of US peer Monsanto, the latest in a trio of mega mergers that will reshape the agrochemicals industry. The tie-up is set to create a company with control of more than a quarter of the world’s seed and pesticides market. Driven by shifting weather patterns, competition in grain exports and a faltering global farm economy, Dow and Dupont, and ChemChina and Syngenta had earlier led a wave of consolidation in the sector. Both deals secured EU approval only after the companies offered substantial asset sales to boost rivals.

Environmental and farming groups have opposed all three deals, worried about their power and their advantage in digital farming data, which can tell farmers how and when to till, sow, spray, fertilise and pick crops based on algorithms. The European Commission said Bayer addressed its concerns with its offer to sell a swathe of assets to boost rival BASF [..] “Our decision ensures that there will be effective competition and innovation in seeds, pesticides and digital agriculture markets also after this merger,” European Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager said in a statement. “In particular, we have made sure that the number of global players actively competing in these markets stays the same.”

[..] Vestager said the Commission, which received more than a million petitions concerning the deal, had been thorough by examining more than 2,000 different product markets and 2.7 million internal documents to produce a 1,285-page ruling. [..] Online campaigns group Avaaz criticised the EU approval. “This is a marriage made in hell. The Commission ignored a million people who called on them to block this deal, and caved in to lobbying to create a mega-corporation which will dominate our food supply,” Avaaz legal director Nick Flynn said.

Dow-Dupont, ChemChina and Bayer Monsanto have a lot more political influence than a million Europeans, or ten million Americans. They have even convinced numerous, if not most, people that without their products the world would starve. That their chemicals are needed to feed a growing human population. Farming based on algorythms.

They are not ‘seed companies’. They are ‘seeds-that-need-our-chemicals-to-grow’ companies. And they are out to conquer the entire world. A 100-times worse version of Facebook. And our governments subsidize the use of their products. As we not-so-slowly see our living world be massacred by those products.

We don’t know how bad GMOs will turn out to be. Which is in itself a very good reason to ban them. Since once they spread, they can’t be stopped anymore. Then the chemical boys will own all of our food. But we do know how bad the pesticides and other chemicals they produce are. And we’re not even banning those. We just eat all that sh*t and shut up.

It’s a failure to understand what science is: that you must proof harm first before banning stuff. The only real science is the one that has adopted the Precautionary Principle. Because science is supposed to be smart, and there’s nothing smart about destroying your own world. Because science should never be used to hurt people or nature. Science can only be good if it benefits us. Not our wallets, but our heads and hearts and forests, and our children. Do no harm.

Yeah, I know, who am I fooling, right?