Sep 102019
 
 September 10, 2019  Posted by at 1:43 pm Finance, Primers Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  11 Responses »


Pablo Picasso Composition “Peasants” 1906

 

It’s undoubtedly better to leave some stories alone, and this may be one of them. Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov perhaps put it best when he called it “pulp fiction” (and what’s more American than that?). But this one is so exemplary of how the news is cooked up for you these days, let’s have a go anyway.

What makes this story so ideal for its purpose is that it involves intelligence and state secrets, so the news outlet that runs it doesn’t have to prove a thing; it can simply say it’s not authorized to divulge what it doesn’t write, while hinting it does know. Plus, it can use any number of covert sources.

But in the process, a damning picture can still be painted. And if that picture involves Donald Trump, and it’s CNN that’s painting it, well, we know what it’s going to look like. Here’s how it started at CNN yesterday (with some additions from today):

 

US Extracted Top Spy From Inside Russia In 2017

In a previously undisclosed secret mission in 2017, the United States successfully extracted from Russia one of its highest-level covert sources inside the Russian government, multiple Trump administration officials with direct knowledge told CNN. A person directly involved in the discussions said that the removal of the Russian was driven, in part, by concerns that President Donald Trump and his administration repeatedly mishandled classified intelligence and could contribute to exposing the covert source as a spy.

The decision to carry out the extraction occurred soon after a May 2017 meeting in the Oval Office in which Trump discussed highly classified intelligence with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and then-Russian Ambassador to the US Sergey Kislyak. The intelligence, concerning ISIS in Syria, had been provided by Israel. The disclosure to the Russians by the President, though not about the Russian spy specifically, prompted intelligence officials to renew earlier discussions about the potential risk of exposure, according to the source directly involved in the matter.

At the time, then-CIA Director Mike Pompeo told other senior Trump administration officials that too much information was coming out regarding the covert source, known as an asset.[..]

Asked for comment, Brittany Bramell, the CIA director of public affairs, told CNN: “CNN’s narrative that the Central Intelligence Agency makes life-or-death decisions based on anything other than objective analysis and sound collection is simply false. Misguided speculation that the President’s handling of our nation’s most sensitive intelligence—which he has access to each and every day—drove an alleged exfiltration operation is inaccurate.”

[..] White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham said, “CNN’s reporting is not only incorrect, it has the potential to put lives in danger.”

The removal happened at a time of wide concern in the intelligence community about mishandling of intelligence by Trump and his administration. Those concerns were described to CNN by five sources who served in the Trump administration, intelligence agencies and Congress. Those concerns continued to grow in the period after Trump’s Oval Office meeting with Kislyak and Lavrov. Weeks after the decision to extract the spy, in July 2017, Trump met privately with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the G20 summit in Hamburg and took the unusual step of confiscating the interpreter’s notes.

Afterward, intelligence officials again expressed concern that the President may have improperly discussed classified intelligence with Russia, according to an intelligence source with knowledge of the intelligence community’s response to the Trump-Putin meeting. Knowledge of the Russian covert source’s existence was highly restricted within the US government and intelligence agencies. According to one source, there was “no equal alternative” inside the Russian government, providing both insight and information on Putin.

 

Pretty bad, right? Well, we’re not done just yet. Here’s the BBC adding its two cents:

 

US Extracted High-Level Spy From Inside Russia In 2017, Reports Say

Russian media named the spy as former presidential administration official Oleg Smolenkov. The Kommersant newspaper said Mr Smolenkov went on holiday with his family to Montenegro in 2017 and disappeared, before a man with the same name and a woman with the same name as Mr Smolenkov’s wife purchased a house in the US state of Virginia, near Washington DC. Russian reports said Mr Smolenkov had worked for Yury Ushakov, a senior aide to President Putin.

Asked by the BBC on Tuesday about the reports, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov confirmed that Mr Smolenkov had worked for the presidential administration but denied that he had held a high-level position, adding that he had been sacked. Mr Peskov described the US media coverage of the reported extraction as “pulp fiction”.

There was no suggestion on Tuesday that President Trump directly compromised the source in Russia, and reports said that widespread media speculation about US intelligence conclusions had contributed to the decision to extract the source. Last year, Russian operatives travelled to England and used a nerve agent in an assassination attempt against a former Russian military intelligence officer, Sergei Skripal, who had spied for the British.

 

Isn’t it just lovely how they manage to throw in Skripal there at the end? Took a bit of stretching, but the BBC is plenty flexible.

Okay, so this alleged spy is extracted (or “exfiltrated”) by US intelligence, and then buys a home in Virginia. But not only that, he buys it under his own name. Presumably so that if Putin wants to find the man who divulged all those secrets for 10 years+, he can just Google him. Here’s NBC:

 

Possible Russian Spy For CIA Now Living In Washington Area

A former senior Russian official is living in the Washington area under U.S. government protection, current and former government officials tell NBC News. NBC News is withholding the man’s name and other key details at the request of U.S. officials, who say reporting the information could endanger his life. Yet the former Russian government official, who had a job with access to secrets, was living openly under his true name.

An NBC News correspondent went to the man’s house in the Washington area and rang the doorbell. Five minutes later, two young men in an SUV came racing up the street and parked immediately adjacent to the correspondent’s car. The men, who identified themselves only as friends of the Russian, asked the correspondent what he was doing there.

[..] The [New York] Times said the source was “the American government’s best insight into the thinking of and orders” from Putin, and was key to the CIA’s assessment that Putin favored Donald Trump’s candidacy and personally ordered the hacking of the Democratic National Committee.

The Times previously reported that the source was considered so sensitive that then-CIA Director John Brennan had declined to refer to the person in the top secret Presidential Daily Brief during the final months of the Obama administration. Brennan sent reports from the source to the president and a small group of top national security aides in a separate, white envelope to assure its security, the Times reported.

[..] NBC News has not confirmed that the Russian living near the nation’s capital fed the CIA information about Russian election interference. But for reasons that NBC News is withholding, he fits the profile of someone who may have had access to information about Putin’s activities and who would have been recruitable by American intelligence officials.

Two former FBI officials told NBC News they believe he is the source referred to in the CNN and New York Times report. The Russian will likely be moved from the place he is currently living in the interest of keeping him safe, current and former officials said.

 

He will be moved in the interest of keeping him safe. That is just brilliant. What, you think Putin will be upset at no longer being able to Google his whereabouts?

To remain fair, let’s give RT some space, too, shall we?

 

Was Key CIA Spy ‘Extracted’ From Moscow Over #Russiagate Fears?

Media outlets in Russia immediately began speculating as to the identity of the alleged mole, quickly settling on Oleg Smolenkov, state advisor of the third class who had worked at the Russian embassy in Washington before 2010. Smolenkov took his wife and three children on vacation to Montenegro on July 14, 2017, whereupon they vanished without a trace. The police have been investigating their disappearance as possible murder.

[..] Russian Senator Franz Klintsevich, deputy head of the Defense and Security Committee, dismissed CNN’s story as “fake” and “carrying out orders for another attempt to discredit Trump,” according to TASS. Most of the US mainstream media outlets spent the past three years promoting the notorious ‘Russiagate’ conspiracy theory on behalf of the Democrats, and have refused to acknowledge any wrongdoing even though special counsel Robert Mueller failed to find anything to incriminate the president after a two-year investigation.

Moreover, CNN and MSNBC have hired a number of former intelligence officials, whose fingerprints have been all over ‘Russiagate,’ as anti-Trump pundits.

 

John Brennan, James Clapper, here’s looking at you. There was no need today to read much further in order to find out that the secret info Trump is accused of divulging to “the Russians” had already been published first by no other than…CNN on March 31 2017. There was no secret. Other than perhaps, says Aaron Maté, that Israel was the source. But trust us, Putin would have known that.

After the Mueller report fiasco, one would think the media who don’t like Trump would be more careful with their reporting, and before reporting it. But they just keep at it.

In the process, as quoted above, through their false reporting and false claims, it’s they who are endangering lives, not Donald Trump:

Brittany Bramell, the CIA director of public affairs, told CNN: “CNN’s narrative that the Central Intelligence Agency makes life-or-death decisions based on anything other than objective analysis and sound collection is simply false. Misguided speculation that the President’s handling of our nation’s most sensitive intelligence—which he has access to each and every day—drove an alleged exfiltration operation is inaccurate.” [..]

White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham said, “CNN’s reporting is not only incorrect, it has the potential to put lives in danger.”

It’s not just the White House, the CIA itself says it too.

Asking for a friend: You think the country’s still capable of having a normal conversation?

 

 

 

 

Mar 132019
 


Pablo Picasso Les Demoiselles d’Avignon 1907

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read more …

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read more …

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

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

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

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

Read more …

A powerless voice.

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

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

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

Read more …

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

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

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

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

Read more …

Maybe the UK should focus on survival right now.

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

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

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

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

Read more …

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

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

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

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

Read more …

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

The Propaganda Multiplier (Off Guardian)

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


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

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


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

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

Read more …

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

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

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

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

Read more …

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read more …

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

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

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

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

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

Read more …

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

Note: the Monsanto name is vanishing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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Mar 222015
 
 March 22, 2015  Posted by at 8:06 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  6 Responses »


Jack Delano “Untitled” 1940

We’re All Hedge Funds Now (John Rubino)
Why Has Germany Bailed Out A Tiny Bank? (Coppola)
The Perfect Storm For Oil Hits In Two Months (Zero Hedge)
The ‘Natural Interest Rate’ Is Always Positive And Cannot Be Negative (Mises)
The Federal Reserve Bank Must Be Destroyed! (Patrick Barron)
We’re Much Worse Off Than Just Before The Last Economic Crisis (Michael Snyder)
Draghi To Go To Italian Committee But Not Irish Bank Inquiry (Irish Times)
China To Curb Risks From Short-Term Local Debt (Reuters)
Why Do American Weapons End Up In Our Enemies’ Hands? (Ron Paul)
Nazi Extortion: Study Sheds New Light on Forced Greek Loans (Spiegel)
Michael Hudson: Europe Tilts East Towards China (NC/TRRN)
Abe-Kuroda Honeymoon Soured By Fiscal Friction (Reuters)
‘Abandoned’ French Working Class Ready To Punish Left, Vote Le Pen (Guardian)
The Idea of “Basic Income” Takes Root (CP)
Wild Anti-Austerity Strike in Québec (Printemps2015.org)
Moral Hazard: Ukraine New Spy Law Designed As Provocation (RT/RonPaul Inst.)
Russia Urges Germany, France To Safeguard Peace In Ukraine (Reuters)
France Decrees New Rooftops Must Be Covered In Plants Or Solar Panels (Guardian)
Africa Is Centre Of A ‘Wildlife War’ That The World Is Losing (Observer)
Australia PM Tony Abbott Unveils Plan To Save Great Barrier Reef (Guardian)
The Global Extraction Industry: Plunder, Violence And Corruption (Observer)

“Will this time around be any different? Definitely. It will be much worse because the numbers are so much bigger.”

We’re All Hedge Funds Now (John Rubino)

As negative interest rates spread from Switzerland, Japan and Germany to the rest of the developed world, people with money to invest face some life-defining choices. Retirees who need to generate 6% to avoid dipping into principal can’t get there with bank CDs. Pension funds that have promised an 8% return in order to meet obligations to future retirees can’t get anywhere near that with government bonds. Same thing for insurance companies and money market funds, whose business models require positive returns with low risk. What to do? Well, a retiree can either stop being a retiree — that is, go back to work — or invest a lot more aggressively to meet the required 6% return.

That means loading up on equities and junk bonds, either blithely because she doesn’t know what they are (only that they’ve been going up) or with trepidation because she’s aware that every five or so years these things tend to crash. For public companies, building new factories no longer pays as well as borrowing money and using the proceeds to buy back their own common stock. Pension funds, meanwhile, have more options though the end result is the same. They can, like our hypothetical retiree, load up on equities, as Japanese pension funds are reportedly doing…[..] …or they can wander even further into the “alternative” investing universe by hiring hedge funds to generate “alpha.”[..]

In the world of aggressive investing, retirees, corporations and pensions funds are all “dumb money.” They don’t do this kind of thing regularly so they have no institutional or personal experience to draw upon. The result, for pension funds and retirees, is the quintessential beginner strategy of trend following, buying what was hot last year because that’s where the biggest returns are being generated, while public companies are being even dumber, buying stocks on margin (i.e., with borrowed money) without regard for valuation. Similar things happened during the previous bubble, when individuals became real estate speculators, pension funds embraced alternative investments, and corporations ramped up their share repurchase programs. All got creamed in 2008. Will this time around be any different? Definitely. It will be much worse because the numbers are so much bigger.

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Moral hazard?!

Why Has Germany Bailed Out A Tiny Bank? (Coppola)

The first German bank has died from Austrian contagion. Duesseldorfer Hypothekenbank (“Duesselhyp”), a tiny mortgage lender, has been seized by the Bundesverband Deutsche Banken (BDB), Germany’s association of private banks. According to Reuters, The BDB had hammered out a deal over the weekend with financial market watchdog Bafin, the Bundesbank and resolution authority FMSA to provide a guarantee for DuesselHyp’s holdings of around 350 million euros ($370 million) in Heta bonds that are subject to a debt moratorium imposed by Austrian financial regulators.Duesselhyp’s core tier1 (CT1) capital of €233m was not enough to allow it to continue trading after the expected 50% haircut on its holdings of senior unsecured HAA/Heta bonds.

Under German law, Lone Star, the private equity group that owned Duesselhyp, was not obliged to contribute more capital, and the planned sale of Duesselhyp to Attestor Capital could not proceed. The BDB’s seizure of Duesselhyp is therefore understandable: the alternative was disorderly collapse.But it is not immediately clear why the BDB opted to bail out Duesselhyp rather than forcing bail-in of its creditors. After all, Germany has already adopted the European Bank Resolution & Recovery Directive (EBRRD). True, Duesselhyp is tiny: bailing it out could be done entirely from existing funding without recourse to taxpayers. But bailing out a tiny, over-leveraged and under-capitalized bank seems contrary to the spirit if not the law of the EBRRD. So why did the BDB do it?

The reason is the nature of Duesselhyp’s liabilities. Duesselhyp is an issuer of Pfandbriefe, the super-safe covered bonds that are the bedrock of the German financial system. A look at Duesselhyp’s 2014 interim balance sheet shows that Pfandbriefe backed by public sector loans are by far the largest proportion of Duesselhyp’s liabilities: it has issued a rather smaller number of mortgage Pfandbriefe too. The remainder of Duesselhyp’s liabilities are institutional deposits (it has no retail deposits), which are covered by unlimited guarantees from the German deposit fund. In short, almost all of Duesselhyp’s liabilities are covered by explicit or implicit German government guarantees.

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Storage issue once more.

The Perfect Storm For Oil Hits In Two Months (Zero Hedge)

This is what we said back in early March when the BTFDers were hoping WTI in the low $40s would never again be seen: “Come June, when all available on-land storage is exhausted, each incremental barrel will have to be dumped on the market forcing prices lower and inflicting further pain on the entire US shale complex (just as Q1 results are released which will invariably show huge writedowns as companies will no longer be able to hide behind the SEC-mandated accounting trick that made Q4 results appear respectable).”

Since then, as expected, crude tumbled to new post-Lehman lows, confirming the global deflationary wave is raging (for more details please see China), and WTI only posted a rebound on quad-witching Friday as another algo-driven stop hunt spooked all those who were short the energy complex. The problem is that despite the latest “dead oil bounce” we have since had to revise our forecast for full US oil storage, and pulled forward the date when this will happen in the aftermath of the latest API inventory data. Recall that earlier this week API reported, and EIA later confirmed, that for the 10th week in a row there was a “massive 10.5 million barrels (far bigger than the 3.1 million barrel expectation) and a 3 million barrel build at Cushing. If this holds for DOE data tomorrow (and worryingly API has tended to underestimate the build in recent weeks) it will be the biggest weekly build since 2001.”

It also means that at the current rate of record oil production, storage will be exhausted in under two months, some time in mid-May. At that point, with no more storage to buffer the record oil production, the open market dumping begins and prices of WTI will crater as every barrel will have to be sold at any clearing price, since the producers will have no other choice than to, literally, dump the oil. In other words, a perfect storm is shaping up for oil some time in late May, early June.

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Amen.

The ‘Natural Interest Rate’ Is Always Positive And Cannot Be Negative (Mises)

Some economists have been arguing that the “equilibrium real interest rate” (that is the “natural interest rate” or the “originary interest rate”) has become negative, as a “secular stagnation” has allegedly caused a “savings glut.” The idea is that savings exceed investment, and that a negative real interest rate is required for bringing savings in line with investment. From the viewpoint of the Austrian school, the notion of a “negative equilibrium real interest rate” doesn’t make sense at all. To show this, let us develop the case step by step. To start with, one should make a distinction between two types of interest rates: There is the market interest rate, and there is the originary interest rate. The market interest rate is the outcome of the supply of and demand for savings in the market place.

It can be observed, for instance, in the deposit, bond, or loan market for different maturities and credit qualities. The originary interest rate is a category of human action, saying that acting man values goods available at present more highly than goods available in the future. In other words: Future goods trade at a price discount relative to present goods. For instance, 1 US$ available today is preferred over 1 US$ available in one year’s time. If 1 US$ to be received in one year’s time is valued at, say, 0.909 US$, the originary rate of interest is 10%. (1 US$ divided by 0.909 minus 1 gives you 0.10, or 10%, for that matter.) 10% is here the originary interest rate (disregarding any other premia). The originary interest rate is expressive of a value differential, which results from so-called time-preference.

The term time-preference denotes that acting man prefers an earlier satisfaction of wants over a later satisfaction of wants. Time-preference is always and everywhere positive, and so is the originary interest rate. This is, first and foremost, what common sense would tell us. If the originary interest rate was near-zero, it means that you prefer two apples available in, say, 1,000 years over one apple available today. A truly zero originary interest rate implies that the actor’s planning horizon or “period of provision” is infinitely long, which is another way of saying that he would never act at all but would continually push the attainment of his goals into the future. The notion that time-preference and the originary interest rate could be zero, does not only sound absurd, it is also a logical impossibility: Positive time-preference and a positive originary interest rate are logically implied in the irrefutably true “axiom of human action.”

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“Note that there is nothing that a central bank could provide that could not be provided by another private bank.”

The Federal Reserve Bank Must Be Destroyed! (Patrick Barron)

The Fed was founded under false economic premises–to prevent bank runs by providing temporary liquidity to banks which found themselves unable to redeem their certificates and demand deposits for cash and/or specie. The real cause of illiquid banks–fractional reserve banking–was never seriously addressed. It was assumed that banks had the legal right to invest their customers’ demand funds in loans and that runs were caused by over indulging in this practice. But as Murray N. Rothbard explain in What Has Government Done to Our Money?, loaning demand funds instantly places the bank in an insolvent position, for it cannot redeem all of its demand accounts for cash or specie.

Through the process of lending demand funds, the banks have created fiduciary media out of thin air, reducing their reserve ratio below one hundred percent. If the banks do this on a very modest basis, the public may not be aware of the fraud. However, once the rumor starts that the bank is illiquid, there is a literal “run” to the bank to withdraw demand funds. In such a case, even a bank that only modestly lent its demand funds might find itself unable to honor all withdrawal claims and would be forced to close its doors. (NOTE: Central Banking was established to legitimize counterfeiting fraud, aka – Fractional Reserve Banking) The Federal Reserve Bank, as the lender of last resort, was supposed to prevent such occurrences by providing temporary, penalty rate loans to struggling banks.

Note that there is nothing that a central bank could provide that could not be provided by another private bank. In fact the banking panic of 1907 was stemmed by private bank interventions led by J. P. Morgan. However, Morgan realized that such private bailouts were very risky and presented a case of moral hazard; i.e., that bankers, confident of a bailout by the Morgan banking empire, might book riskier, higher yielding loans. So rather than face the real cause of banking crises and lobby to outlaw fractional reserve banking, the Morgans, Rockefellers, etc.–who did not want to forego the financial benefits of lending demand deposits–lobbied instead for government to create a lender of last resort, a central bank, which we named the Federal Reserve Bank.

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Good graphs. Pity Michael doesn’t understand inflation.

We’re Much Worse Off Than Just Before The Last Economic Crisis (Michael Snyder)

If you believe that ignorance is bliss, you might not want to read this article. I am going to dispel the notion that there has been any sort of “economic recovery”, and I am going to show that we are much worse off than we were just prior to the last economic crisis. If you go back to 2007, people were feeling really good about things. Houses were being flipped like crazy, the stock market was booming and unemployment was relatively low. But then the financial crisis of 2008 struck, and for a while it felt like the world was coming to an end. Of course it didn’t come to an end – it was just the first wave of our problems.

The waves that come next are going to be the ones that really wipe us out. Unfortunately, because we have experienced a few years of relative stability, many Americans have become convinced that Barack Obama, Janet Yellen and the rest of the folks in Washington D.C. have fixed whatever problems caused the last crisis. Even though all of the numbers are screaming otherwise, there are millions upon millions of people out there that truly believe that everything is going to be okay somehow. We never seem to learn from the past, and when this next economic downturn strikes it is going to do an astonishing amount of damage because we are already in a significantly weakened state from the last one.

For each of the charts that I am about to share with you, I want you to focus on the last shaded gray bar on each chart which represents the last recession. As you will see, our economic problems are significantly worse than they were just before the financial crisis of 2008. That means that we are far less equipped to handle a major economic crisis than we were the last time.

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Don’t insult the Irish!

Draghi To Go To Italian Committee But Not Irish Bank Inquiry (Irish Times)

The ECB is holding to its position that its president, Mario Draghi, will not go before the Oireachtas banking inquiry in spite of the fact that he will appear at certain committees of the Italian parliament on March 26th. In a statement released to The Irish Times on foot of a question as to why Mr Draghi will not attend the Irish inquiry but will address committees of the Italian parliament, a spokesman said: “The ECB as a European institution is primarily held to account by the European Parliament as the representation of all the union’s citizens. “Therefore, it does not participate in national parliamentary inquiries and will not take part in the proceedings of the inquiry committee of the Irish parliament.”

It added: “Nevertheless, in line with past practice of interaction between the ECB and national parliaments, the ECB is ready to take part in an informal exchange of views on matters within the remit of the ECB’s mandate with the relevant committees of the Irish parliament.” The spokesman reiterated that deputy president Vítor Constâncio “stands ready” to represent the ECB in “such an exchange of views”, adding he was well placed to do so by being the longest-serving member of the executive board who also attended the relevant Eurogroup/Ecofin meetings during the Irish financial crisis. The ECB president has also appeared before committees of the German, French and Spanish parliaments and the ECB spokesman said Mr Draghi would address the budget, finance and European affairs committees of the Italian parliament later this month.

Irish MEP Brian Hayes said it was “totally unsatisfactory” Mr Draghi was not willing to appear before the banking inquiry but addresses national parliaments in certain situations. Inquiry committee member John Paul Phelan wants the ECB to clarify its position: “We know Mr Draghi already attended a German parliamentary finance committee in late October 2012. It now appears he is attending a similar committee in Italy. The ECB needs to clarify its position. On the one hand it says it is not accountable to member state parliaments and so the ECB won’t attend our inquiry. “But without explanation the president of the ECB appears willing to attend Italy’s parliamentary finance committee.”

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They’re going to try and buy out the shadow system?

China To Curb Risks From Short-Term Local Debt (Reuters)

China will take steps to rein in possible risks from short-term local government bonds, including converting such bonds into long-term debt, the country’s vice finance minister, Zhu Guangyao, said on Saturday. On March 8, the ministry announced local governments would be permitted to swap 1 trillion yuan ($161.2 billion) of maturing, high-interest local debt for new official municipal or provincial bonds, to help cut interest costs. Zhu said local governments were burdened by piles of short-term debt, including that raised through trust products. “In accordance with the State Council’s plans, we will turn such short-term financing into long-term financing, and the size for 2015 is 1 trillion yuan,” Zhu told an international conference on China’s development attended by government officials, business leaders and academics. “This will help reduce the funding costs and reduce risks.”

But the authorities must prevent the problem of “moral hazard” in the process, he said, without elaborating. The government will keep economic growth stable this year while pushing forward financial and fiscal reforms, Zhu added. China has been trying to reduce excess factory capacity, local government debt and risks from a cooling property market, which are likely to drag growth to a quarter-century low of around 7% this year from 7.4% in 2014. “The pre-condition for our deleveraging is to maintain relatively stable economic growth,” Zhu said. The central bank has cut interest rates twice since November, on top of a cut in bank reserve requirements in February, amid concerns about growing deflationary risks, and more such moves are expected. In addition, the government plans to run its biggest budget deficit in 2015 since the global crisis to support spending.

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By design?

Why Do American Weapons End Up In Our Enemies’ Hands? (Ron Paul)

It happens so often you wonder whether it is due to total ineptness or a deliberate policy to undermine our efforts overseas. It’s most likely a result of corruption and unintended consequences, combined with a foreign policy that makes it impossible to determine who are our friends are and who are our enemies. One would think that so many failures in arming others to do our bidding in our effort to control an empire would awaken our leaders and the American people and prompt policy changes.

A recent headline in Mother Jones read: “US Weapons Have A Nasty Habit of Going AWOL.” The report was about $500 million worth of military equipment that is unaccounted for in Yemen. Just as in so many other places, our policy of provoking civil strife in Yemen has been a complete failure. At one time it was announced that there was a great victory in a war being won with drones assisting groups that claimed to be on our side in the Yemen Civil War. As usual, we could have expected that these weapons would end up in the hands of the militants not on the side of United States and would never be accounted for.

There are numerous examples of how our foreign intervention backfires and actually helps the enemy. Just recently a headline announced: “CIA cash sometimes refills al-Qaeda coffers.” This was a story of our government helping pay ransom to al-Qaeda for the release an Afghan diplomat. However this was a measly $5 million so it was not considered a big deal. Another headline just recently announced that, “Iraqi army downs two UK planes carrying weapons for ISIL.” The Iraqi army is supposed to be on our side, and many people believe the UK is also on our side as well. One thing for sure the American taxpayer pays for all this nonsense.

Building weapons and seeing them end up in the hands of the enemy is almost a routine event and one should expect it to continue to happen under the circumstances of the chaos in the Middle East. This represents a cost to the American taxpayer and is obviously a major contributing factor in what will be the ultimate failure of our plan to remake the Middle East. This is bad enough, and the only people who seem to benefit from it are those who are earning profits in the military-industrial complex. But there is something every bit as bad as our weapons ending up in the hands of the jihadists and being used against us. That is, the fact that our presence there, our weapons, and our bombs, are the best recruiting tool for getting individuals to join the fight against America’s presence in so many conflicts around the world.

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See Looks Like Germany May Have To Pay Up .

Nazi Extortion: Study Sheds New Light on Forced Greek Loans (Spiegel)

Last week in Greek parliament, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras demanded German reparations payments, indirectly linking them to the current situation in Greece. “After the reunification of Germany in 1990, the legal and political conditions were created for this issue to be solved,” Tsipras said. “But since then, German governments chose silence, legal tricks and delay. And I wonder, because there is a lot of talk at the European level these days about moral issues: Is this stance moral?” Tspiras was essentially countering German allegations that Greece lives beyond its means with the biggest counteraccusation possible: German guilt. Leaving aside the connection drawn by Tsipras, which many consider to be inappropriate, there are many arguments to support the Greek view. SPIEGEL itself reported in February that former Chancellor Helmut Kohl used tricks in 1990 in order to avoid having to pay reparations.

A study conducted by the Greek Finance Ministry, commissioned way back in 2012 by a previous government, has now been completed and contains new facts. The 194-page document has been obtained by SPIEGEL. The central question in the report is that of forced loans the Nazi occupiers extorted from the Greek central bank beginning in 1941. Should requests for repayment of those loans be classified as reparation demands – demands that may have been forfeited with the Two-Plus-Four Treaty of 1990? Or is it a genuine loan that must be paid back? The expert commission analyzed contracts and agreements from the time of the occupation as well as receipts, remittance slips and bank statements.

They found that the forced loans do not fit into the category of classical war reparations. The commission calculated the outstanding German “debt” to the Greek central bank and came to a total sum of $12.8 billion as of December 2014, which would amount to about €11 billion. As such, at issue between Germany and Greece is no longer just the question as to whether the 115 million deutsche marks paid to the Greek government from 1961 onwards for its peoples’ suffering during the occupation sufficed as legal compensation for the massacres like those in the villages of Distomo and Kalavrita. Now the key issue is whether the successor to the German Reich, the Federal Republic of Germany, is responsible for paying back loans extorted by the Nazi occupiers. There’s some evidence to indicate that this may be the case.

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Must read/Listen. “..the funding of the World Bank has mainly been to fund infrastructure developments, vastly overpriced, to Third World countries to create money for American engineering firms; also to lend out dollars and to indebt countries to it..”

Michael Hudson: Europe Tilts East Towards China (NC/TRRN)

Real News Network: So, Michael, let’s begin with the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. The Chinese have established this bank with a $50 billion investment. Now, is this then a serious challenge to the World Bank?

HUDSON: Well, the idea is to make an alternative development philosophy to the World Bank. From the very beginning, the World Bank has been basically an extension of the U.S. Defense Department, from the first president, John J. McCloy, who is assistant secretary of defense, down through Robert McNamara, 1968 to ’81, and then by the neocon cold warrior Paul Wolfowitz, 2005 to ’07, and Larry Summers, the chief economist, along with Bob Zoellick. So you have the purpose of the World Bank lending essentially for plantation export crops, for export crops to make countries avoid producing anything that might compete with American exports, above all grain, although every single mission of the World Bank, country mission, has recommended that countries undertake land reform and agricultural extension to help promote family farming and countries to feed themselves. The World Bank has not made loans for this.

The World Bank, under U.S. congressional pressure, has said, look, we’re not going to finance countries becoming independent of the United States; our function is to make them export more to the United States and to buy from the United States. So the funding of the World Bank has mainly been to fund infrastructure developments, vastly overpriced, to Third World countries to create money for American engineering firms; also to lend out dollars and to indebt countries to it; and worst of all, to promote privatization. And that’s really the big difference between the Chinese Development Bank’s philosophy and the World Bank.

The World Bank is pressured everywhere for privatization of public utilities, of basic infrastructure, and then it will make loans to the governments to develop this infrastructure or the roads and the external economies, and then sell them cheap to American buyers, who essentially will create monopolies and turn infrastructure into a rent extraction to squeeze out interest, dividends, management fees that are all going to be paid to the Americans. And this has been raising the price of basic utilities–communications, transportation, water, and other things throughout the Third World.

And this has made these economies uncompetitive with the United States that has a mixed economy where the government subsidizes infrastructure. So the Chinese Development Bank is to help make other countries get independent of this sort of neocon, neoliberal, right-wing economic philosophy and work government-to-government, help governments develop infrastructure, so that they can provide basic services at a lower cost or a subsidized cost, or even freely to the populations. That’s how the European countries and American economy got rich. And the only way to help repeat this process is to make a clean break from the United States and the World Bank.

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Abenomics has been a failure from day one. Is the blame game finally taking off?

Abe-Kuroda Honeymoon Soured By Fiscal Friction (Reuters)

A rift is emerging between Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his hand-picked central bank boss on how to fix Japan’s tattered finances, which could blunt the impact of the “Abenomics” stimulus policies they have worked together to prosecute. Two years into Bank of Japan Governor Haruhiko Kuroda’s tenure, the cracks are becoming hard to conceal and could affect the timing of any further monetary easing and an eventual end to the massive money-printing program he set in train. Their differences over fiscal policy needed to cut Japan’s staggering public debt, which at 230% of GDP is twice the U.S. figure and about 50 points higher than perilous Greece, have so far been masked by their shared determination to end deflation.

The perception of common purpose is critical to giving businesses, markets and consumers the confidence to change behavior and ensure that the stimulus measures and inflation targets are effective. But the mask began to slip last year when Abe decided to delay a sales tax hike, making Japan’s primary fiscal goal harder to achieve. “The honeymoon days are over,” said Izuru Kato, chief economist at Totan Research. “Kuroda must be frustrated over a lack of progress in structural reform and fiscal consolidation.” A former finance ministry bureaucrat, Kuroda feels Japan cannot afford to delay tax hikes and spending cuts given its dire fiscal state, while Abe prefers to focus more on boosting growth to raise tax revenues.

Last month a key policy panel run by Abe’s right-hand man, Economics Minister Akira Amari, began debating proposals that could water down Japan’s fiscal target of returning to a primary budget surplus, excluding debt servicing costs and income from bond sales, in fiscal 2020. Abe has not resiled from that target, but the panel is laying the ground for him to add other goals that give him more wiggle-room on spending, government officials say.

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Too late to stop this. Hollande has turned into Tony Blair.

‘Abandoned’ French Working Class Ready To Punish Left, Vote Le Pen (Guardian)

At an election meeting just days before France’s regional elections, a Japanese journalist asked Marine Le Pen a question: why was her far-right Front National party tipped to do so well? Polls suggest that the FN vote will reach unprecedented levels, with up to 30% of the vote, just ahead of the opposition Union for a Popular Movement (UMP) party and leaving the ruling Socialist party trailing. “The Front National is alone against everyone. The French people have realised for some time now that the Front National’s analysis is right, and the other political parties have failed,” Le Pen responded. The FN had gone from “a party of opposition … to a movement of government” by addressing “the economy, immigration and Islamic fundamentalism”, she added. From Le Pen, a damning analysis of this type might be expected.

But from a member of the leftwing commentariat? A new “state of the nation” tome, L’Insécurité culturelle, by analyst Laurent Bouvet, has caused a storm in Paris salons by suggesting that the country’s working class is ready to vote FN in droves because it has been abandoned by the left and deceived by the country’s Socialist government. Bouvet accuses the left of sparking an identity crisis – “cultural insecurity” – among its core blue-collar electorate, by almost exclusively focusing on the problems of minority groups instead of French society as a whole. This has left the workers feeling cast adrift and alienated, he says. “The economic crisis, unemployment, social problems, globalisation make people afraid, but if it was just about economics we would see these people voting for the radical left, which they are not,” Bouvet told the Observer.

Bouvet is a political science professor and member of the leftwing thinktank the Jean Jaurès Foundation, which advises the Socialist party (PS) and aims to “promote the study of workers’ movements and international socialism and promote democratic and humanist ideas”. He says his latest, decidedly politically incorrect, message is one the left does not want to hear. Bouvet says PC blinkers have prevented the Socialists from addressing working-class anxieties about immigration and the rise of Islam – even in its moderate form – in areas where the so-called Français de souche (born-and-bred French) find themselves outnumbered by those with a different religion and cultural habits. Branded les petits blancs (white trash), and accused of racism or patronised if they express their fears, they have turned en masse to the FN, he says.

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Always a good discussion.

The Idea of “Basic Income” Takes Root (CP)

After years of having relatively few supporters, the idea of Basic Income is now spreading around the world. In Spain – probably “the place on Earth where the debate around Basic Income is most advanced” – after five years of public spending cuts, depressed demand, record unemployment, burgeoning poverty, and a growing public debt now at around 100% of GDP, and after twenty years of discussion in universities, grassroots movements and social networks, Basic Income is finally going mainstream.

Although the new game-changing left-wing political party Podemos has temporarily retreated from its initial Basic Income proposal in favour of “full employment” (more fitting, perhaps, for the welfare states of the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s), many party members are Basic Income stalwarts. Other political organisations now proposing it include Equo, Pirata and Bildu (a coalition in the Basque Country) and, in Galicia, Anova, while still more small parties have projects which, while not strictly a Basic Income, come close.

A recent number of the Basic Income Earth Network newsletter gives an idea of the worldwide spread of different versions of Basic Income. In Greece the new ruling party Syriza has declared its aim to establish “a closer link between pension contribution and income… and provide targeted assistance to employees between 50 and 65, including through a Guaranteed Basic Income scheme so as to eliminate the social and political pressure of early retirement which over-burdens the pension funds”. In Finland, 65.5% of 1,642 (out of nearly 2,000) candidates for the parliamentary elections on 19 April publicly support the policy. Cyprus has passed a new law giving low income families a Guaranteed Minimum Income of €480 a month.

In 2013, a grassroots movement in Switzerland called for a Basic Income of 2,500 Swiss francs per month and received over 100,000 signatures needed to force a referendum on the proposal. 90% of the members of Hungary’s Green-Left party Párbeszéd Magyarországért (“Dialogue for Hungary”) have voted for a Basic Income to which all citizens would be entitled, €80 per month for children, €160 for adults and €240 for young mothers. The poverty line in Hungary is estimated at around €200 for a single adult. In Portugal, where Basic Income is relatively unknown and misunderstood, the political party LIVRE has included Basic Income in its draft political programme for the autumn elections this year. Now recognising that inequality and social justice are also “green” issues, the fast-growing Green Party of England and Wales has announced that a Basic Income will be included in its manifesto.

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Announcement from my old stomping grouds for the coming week. Québec has a long history of standing up for the poor, since the French were held down for centuries.

Wild Anti-Austerity Strike in Québec (Printemps2015.org)

Like wolves, humans act collectively and form groups in order to survive and defend our common interests. The idea of community is closely related to survival in the face of adversity and to the well being of society. The preservation of our habitat, of our social rights, and of our future depends on solidarity. Acting together in large numbers makes it much easier to defend our rights and our collective needs. That’s why we propose the creation of an alternative to the isolation and individualism pervasive in society by choosing collective action against the aggressive attacks of governments on our collective wellbeing. Both federal and provincial governments are engaged in attacks on the population.

They now demand that we pay more at the same as they are wantonly slashing everywhere: education and health systems, scientific research, pension funds, the environment, social and community programs, housing, arts and culture, union rights… Faced with the bewildering rate at which cuts and austerity measures are announced, action is urgently needed. The Spring 2015 committee calls for a push towards social change, starting this spring. We envision concrete resistance to austerity uniting students, workers, and society as a whole taking root in Québec. While they reach for the last pennies in our pockets, federal and provincial governments increase military spending, invest in prisons, police, and security measures, and roll out the red carpet for the extractive industries.

People with friends in high places, the rich, large companies, multinationals, banks and lobbying firms are running the show. A small minority is strangling the community. If the interests of the majority do not orient the actions and priorities of the government, it is illusory to continue to speak of this as a democracy. In a just and equitable society, wealth should not be accumulated at the expense of our environment and should be fairly redistributed amongst all. Indigenous peoples, Québecers, and Canadians are neither represented nor respected by governments who do not defend their rights. We will amplify popular discontent and launch a WILD STRIKE.

We call for the pillaging of society to be resisted with a general strike! Let’s disrupt this failed economic order which relegates the interests of society to the bottom of the list. An inclusive strike, a strike by any means: the closure of schools and offices, and cities at a standstill until each and every one of us receives what we are collectively owed. We demand that governments stop privatisation and the sabotage of the common good, end the destruction of the environment, and cease to only favour the rich! Otherwise, we’ll bite. This spring, block austerity! The Spring 2015 committees aim to facilitate the organisation of effective struggles for collective and environmental rights. Everywhere across Québec, let’s join together to massively refuse the ideological project of austerity.

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“..they feel they have the US particularly and the West in general behind them. So they feel they can engage in every moral reckless behavior because there are no consequences..”

Moral Hazard: Ukraine New Spy Law Designed As Provocation (RT/RonPaul Inst.)

If a Ukrainian draft law on intelligence comes into force, we might start seeing assassinations, bomb blasts, and psychological attacks in the Donbass region, says Daniel McAdams of the Ron Paul Institute. Ukraine’s parliament has passed a law allowing its intelligence units to carry out military operations in eastern Ukraine. If the President Petro Poroshenko signs the law, it would allow special services to infiltrate and operate in the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Lugansk republics.

RT: How does this current move from Kiev correlate with the current peace process in east Ukraine?
Daniel McAdams: I think it’s a provocation and it is designed to be a provocation. The goal is stated clearly from Kiev and it’s echoed in Washington, and to a degree in Berlin, as well, which is that Ukraine needs to be whole again—that is the point they are making including eastern Ukraine and even Crimea. So it is meant to be a provocation. The problem is the government in Kiev is operating with what in finance circles is called “moral hazard”—they feel they have the US particularly and the West in general behind them. So they feel they can engage in every moral reckless behavior because there are no consequences to the actions that they take. But if it does pass, I think it may give us some information, some indication as to what all of the visits from the CIA director to Kiev over the past year and a half were all about. And then we can probably start seeing things like assassinations in Donetsk and Lugansk, bombs going off, provocations, psychological operations. I think it opens the whole can of worms.

RT: The parliament in Kiev also voted on a bill branding some territories in the east as ‘occupied’ including Crimea. What is Kiev trying to achieve here?
DM: Because they can get away with it. The law on autonomy now is going to be granted only after elections take place under Kiev’s rules and laws which definitely goes against the Minsk agreements. They will be supervised by the OSCE which has hardly shown itself to be objective in this case. You’re basically having a de facto taking over of these regions all over again.

RT: What reaction are we expecting internationally, especially from France and Germany who are part of the Normandy Four?
DM: I don’t think they are going to do that much because they have not been willing to speak up and to reprimand their clients in Kiev so far. Yesterday, President Obama had a talk with Chancellor Merkel. And at least, according to the White House’s reading of the conversation, they are in complete agreement about retaining the sanctions on Russia and that the Minsk agreements needed to be fully implemented. So they are simply interpreting the Minsk agreement to suit their ultimate goal, which is the bringing of the regions of the east back under Kiev’s control.

RT: Do you think Washington and Europe are united on this objective?
DM: I wouldn’t say necessarily united but I think over the past year or so we’ve seen that Germany is ready to break. But aside from whisperers in the German intelligence community that basically half of the US generals are bonkers, there has been no real indication that Germany is ready to break. So I think reluctantly they are going along.

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“.. Lavrov said he was concerned Kiev might stage “provocations” to try to persuade the United States that it should aid Kiev by sending it lethal weapons.” He should be.

Russia Urges Germany, France To Safeguard Peace In Ukraine (Reuters)

Russia appealed to Germany and France on Saturday to ensure Kiev does not try to incite violence in east Ukraine to encourage the United States to send Ukrainian forces lethal weapons. Paris and Berlin helped mediate a peace deal in the Belarussian capital Minsk on Feb. 12 to try to end fighting between government forces and pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine but the truce remains fragile. In an interview with Russian television, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said he was concerned Kiev might stage “provocations” to try to persuade the United States that it should aid Kiev by sending it lethal weapons.

“Provocateurs in Kiev … could try to ‘whip something up’ in the expectation that this will influence the world public and weapons will flow into Ukraine,” he told the new program Vesti on Saturday with Sergei Brilev. “I am convinced that Berlin and Paris, as the most important players …, should prevent such a turn of events.” Lavrov also repeated Russia’s opposition to United Nations peacekeepers being sent to the east.

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Makes sense.

France Decrees New Rooftops Must Be Covered In Plants Or Solar Panels (Guardian)

Rooftops on new buildings built in commercial zones in France must either be partially covered in plants or solar panels, under a law approved on Thursday. Green roofs have an isolating effect, helping reduce the amount of energy needed to heat a building in winter and cool it in summer. They also retain rainwater, thus helping reduce problems with runoff, while favouring biodiversity and giving birds a place to nest in the urban jungle, ecologists say.

The law approved by parliament was more limited in scope than initial calls by French environmental activists to make green roofs that cover the entire surface mandatory on all new buildings. The Socialist government convinced activists to limit the scope of the law to commercial buildings.The law was also made less onerous for businesses by requiring only part of the roof to be covered with plants, and giving them the choice of installing solar panels to generate electricity instead. Green roofs are popular in Germany and Australia, and Canada’s city of Toronto adopted a by-law in 2009 mandating them in industrial and residential buildings.

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Only the death penalty for all involved will help. Hunters, traders, buyers, the whole lot. No mercy.

Africa Is Centre Of A ‘Wildlife War’ That The World Is Losing (Observer)

The northern white rhino is heading the way of the dinosaurs. With only five left on Earth – three in Kenya, one in America, and one in the Czech Republic – extinction is now inevitable. It survived for millions of years, but could not survive mankind. This is just one subspecies, but soon the planet’s remaining 28,500 rhinos could be under threat from the illegal wildlife trade. Worth up to £12bn a year, it has joined drugs, arms and human trafficking as one of the world’s biggest crime rackets. Ground zero in this “wildlife war” is Africa, and the conservationists are losing as animals are slaughtered on an industrial scale to meet demand for horn and ivory in newly affluent Asian countries.

Urgent solutions will be debated this week in Kasane, Botswana, as politicians and environmentalists gather for a follow-up to last year’s much-trumpeted London conference on the crisis. Hosted by the British government and Princes Charles, William and Harry, 46 countries signed up to a “London declaration” that promised to address corruption, adopt legislation for tougher penalties against poachers and recruit more law enforcement officers. William Hague, then the foreign secretary, announced at the time: “I believe today we have begun to turn the tide.” More than a year later, however, when the Kasane summit reviews whether these commitments have been implemented, it seems likely that some will be found wanting.

Despite a celebrity-led drive to raise awareness in China and Vietnam, where horn is coveted as an ingredient in traditional medicine or as a status symbol, a record 1,215 rhinos were killed last year in South Africa, 20% more than in 2013. At least 220 chimpanzees, 106 orang-utans, 33 bonobos and 15 gorillas have been lost from the wild over the past 14 months, according to estimates by the Great Apes Survival Partnership. Elephants also remain under siege – at least 20,000 were poached annually from 2011 to 2013, according to the UN – although countries such as Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda have fought back with some measure of success over the past year. “The numbers are still going up and they don’t make us any happier,” said Dr Patrick Bergin, chief executive of the African Wildlife Foundation.

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About the last person on earth you want to handle the issue.

Australia PM Tony Abbott Unveils Plan To Save Great Barrier Reef (Guardian)

Australia has submitted its long-term plan to arrest the decline of the Great Barrier Reef, with Tony Abbott stressing to the international community that the government is “utterly committed” to the reef’s preservation. The Reef 2050 Long-Term Sustainability Plan has been compiled to allay concerns from Unesco over the fading health of the reef, with the organisation’s world heritage committee set to meet in June to decide whether the reef is to be listed as “in danger.” The plan sets a number of targets to reduce pollution running on to the reef, including an 80% reduction in nitrogen and a 50% cut in sediment by 2025.

The final version of the strategy has been re-written to include the policies of Queensland’s new Labor government, which has pledged to ban the dumping of dredged sediment in the reef’s world heritage area and to provide $100m over five years to improve water quality. For its part, the federal government is banning dumping in the reef’s marine park and announced a further $100m in funding for the Reef Trust, a body that will work with landowners to ensure chemicals are not flowing into the coral ecosystem. There will also be a new independent scientific panel, headed by the government’s chief scientist, Ian Chubb, which will oversee the work of the Reef Trust. Abbott said the government was helping to ensure that the reef is “handed on in the best possible condition to our children and grandchildren”.

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Our biggest crime aginst humanity: “African mining scandals, says Baldwin, “have roots in Mayfair”, while “oil deals in London have links to violence in Congo.”

The Global Extraction Industry: Plunder, Violence And Corruption (Observer)

Index on Censorship could not have awarded one of its Freedom of Expression prizes more estimably than to Angolan reporter Rafael Marques de Morais. In doing so, Index prises open Marques’s principal discourse: the prising open of the land itself by those who plunder for profit without heed. Marques’s writing in Angola on the links between diamond mining and government corruption draws attention to the growing causes for concern around the world in relation to the industry of “extraction” and how it behaves financially, politically and morally as it pursues sought-after minerals and commodities to fuel economic growth.

Across the globe, the management of extraction in poor countries rich in resources – by government and the multinationals they invite in – has become hallmarked by scandal, violence, corruption and environmental calamity. Vast international conglomerates are often faced with allegations that they abet the plundering of natural resources, usually in league with local officials and almost always to the detriment of indigenous communities. Only a fraction of the wealth accrued from extraction is left in the host country – to say nothing of the communities often “resettled” – ergo forcibly removed – from the land concerned. This nexus of politics and capitalism leads invariably to violence and death.

Ovid, who wrote around 10BC about the origins of man, accounted for the genesis of warfare in these terms: “The land, which had previously been common to all, like sunlight and breezes, was now divided up far and wide by boundaries, set by cautious surveyors. Nor was it only corn and their due nourishment that men demanded of the rich earth: they explored its very bowels, and dug out the wealth which it had hidden away, close to the Stygian shades; and this wealth was a further incitement to wickedness. By this time iron had been discovered, to the hurt of mankind, and gold, more hurtful still than iron. War made its appearance, using both metals in its conflict, clashing weapons in bloodstained hands.”

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