Oct 152018
 
 October 15, 2018  Posted by at 9:17 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Paul Gauguin Haymaking in Brittany 1889

 

What’s The Point Of Growth If It Creates So Much Misery? (G.)
Don’t Rule Out $400 Oil If The US Sanctions Saudi Arabia (MW)
How Much Damage Can Saudi Arabia Do To The Global Economy? (G.)
Ecuador Partly Restores Assange’s Internet (AAP)
Pages Purged By Facebook Were On Blacklist Promoted By Washington Post (Wsws)
Sears Files For Bankruptcy (CNBC)
The Housing Crisis Will Not Be Solved By Building More Homes (FT)
Violence, Public Anger Erupts In China As Home Prices Slide (ZH)
‘Intense Effort’ Fails To Seal UK-EU Brexit Deal After Sunday Talks (AP)
The EU Wants Fiscal Austerity In A Sinking Economy (CNBC)
Merkel’s Conservative Allies Humiliated in Bavaria Election (G.)
Stephen Hawking Predicted Race Of ‘Superhumans’ (G.)

 

 

The essential discussion of our times.

What’s The Point Of Growth If It Creates So Much Misery? (G.)

The late Prof Mick Moran, who taught politics and government at Manchester University for most of his professional life, had, according to his colleagues, once had “a certain residual respect for our governing elites”. That all changed during the 2008 financial crisis, after which he experienced an epiphany “because it convinced him that the officer class in business and in politics did not know what it was doing”. After his epiphany, Moran formed a collective of academics dedicated to exposing the complacency of finance-worship and to replacing it with an idea of running modern economies focused on maximising social good. They called themselves the Foundational Economy Collective, based on the idea that it’s in the everyday economy where there is most potential for true social regeneration: not top-down cash-splashing, but renewal and replenishment from the ground upwards.

Foundational activities are the materials and services without which we cannot live a civilised life: clean, unrationed water; affordable electricity and gas without cuts to supply; collective transport on smooth roads and rails; quality health and social care provided free at the point of use; and reliable, sustainable food supply. Then there’s the “overlooked economy” – everyday services such as hairdressing, veterinary care, catering and hospitality and small-scale manufacturing – which employ far more people, across a wider geographical range, than the “high-skill, hi-tech” economy with which recent governments have been obsessed.

For the Foundational Economy authors, focusing on the fundamental value of invisible and unglamorous jobs “restores the importance of unappreciated and unacknowledged tacit skills of many citizens”. It’s a way of looking at economics from the point of view of people rather than figures, and doing something revolutionary (yet so blindingly obvious) in the process. What is the point of “growth” if the basic elements of a decent life are denied to a large and growing number?

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A license to kill, then?!

Don’t Rule Out $400 Oil If The US Sanctions Saudi Arabia (MW)

“The Kingdom affirms its total rejection of any threats and attempts to undermine it, whether by threatening to impose economic sanctions, using political pressures, or repeating false accusation,” a government source reportedly told the official Saudi Press Agency. “The Kingdom also affirms that if it receives any action, it will respond with greater action.” Hence, Saudi-owned Al Arabiya channel’s general manager Turki Aldakhil, in our call of the day, warned we could see an explosive move in oil prices. “If U.S. sanctions are imposed on Saudi Arabia, we will be facing an economic disaster that would rock the entire world,” he wrote in an op-ed.

“If the price of oil reaching $80 angered President Trump, no one should rule out the price jumping to $100, or $200, or even double that figure.” This mess could ultimately throw the entire Muslim world “into the arms of Iran, which will become closer to Riyadh than Washington,” Aldakhil said. “The truth is that if Washington imposes sanctions on Riyadh, it will stab its own economy to death, even though it thinks that it is stabbing only Riyadh.”

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Or the end of OPEC?

How Much Damage Can Saudi Arabia Do To The Global Economy? (G.)

Saudi Arabia enjoys a privileged position both in geopolitical and economic terms. It will have a powerful hand to play if tensions with the US and the west escalate and it follows through with Sunday’s warning of retaliation. Its vast oil reserves – it claims to have about 260bn barrels still to extract – afford the most obvious advantage. The kingdom is the world’s largest oil exporter, pumping or shipping about 7m barrels a day, and giving Riyadh huge clout in the global economy because it wields power to push up prices. An editorial in Arab News by Turki Aldhakhil, the general manager of the official Saudi news channel, Al Arabiya, offers a hint of what could be in the offing.

He said Riyadh was weighing up 30 measures designed to put pressure on the US if it were to impose sanctions over the disappearance and presumed murder of Jamal Khashoggi inside the country’s Istanbul consulate. These would include an oil production cut that could drive prices from around $80 (£60) a barrel to more than $400, more than double the all-time high of $147.27 reached in 2008. This would have profound consequences globally, not just because motorists would pay more at the petrol pump, but because it would force up the cost of all goods that travel by road.

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Wonder why the UN has acted now. And did it do so after consulting with the US?

Ecuador Partly Restores Assange’s Internet (AAP)

The Ecuadorian government has decided to partly restore communications for WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. They were cut in March, denying the Australian access to the internet or phones and limiting visitors to members of his legal team. He has been living inside Ecuador’s embassy in London for more than six years. The Ecuadorian government said in March it had acted because Assange had breached “a written commitment made to the government at the end of 2017 not to issue messages that might interfere with other states”.

WikiLeaks said in a statement: “Ecuador has told WikiLeaks publisher Julian Assange that it will remove the isolation regime imposed on him following meetings between two senior UN officials and Ecuador’s President Lenin Moreno on Friday.” Kristinn Hrafnsson, WikiLeaks’ editor-in-chief, added: “It is positive that through UN intervention Ecuador has partly ended the isolation of Mr Assange although it is of grave concern that his freedom to express his opinions is still limited. “The UN has already declared Mr Assange a victim of arbitrary detention. This unacceptable situation must end. “The UK government must abide by the UN’s ruling and guarantee that he can leave the Ecuadorian embassy without the threat of extradition to the United States.”

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Thought PropOrNot was done, but the Atlantic Council did not.

Pages Purged By Facebook Were On Blacklist Promoted By Washington Post (Wsws)

Media outlets removed by Facebook on Thursday, in a massive purge of 800 accounts and pages, had previously been targeted in a blacklist of oppositional sites promoted by the Washington Post in November 2016. The organizations censored by Facebook include The Anti-Media, with 2.1 million followers, The Free Thought Project, with 3.1 million followers, and Counter Current News, with 500,000 followers. All three of these groups had been on the blacklist. In November 2016, the Washington Post published a puff-piece on a shadowy and up to then largely unknown organization called PropOrNot, which had compiled a list of organizations it claimed were part of a “sophisticated Russian propaganda campaign.”

The Post said the report “identifies more than 200 websites as routine peddlers of Russian propaganda during the election season, with combined audiences of at least 15 million Americans.” The publication of the blacklist drew widespread media condemnation, including from journalists Matt Taibbi and Glenn Greenwald, forcing the Post to publish a partial retraction. The newspaper declared that it “does not itself vouch for the validity of PropOrNot’s findings regarding any individual media outlet.” While the individuals behind PropOrNot have not identified themselves, the Washington Post said the group was a “collection of researchers with foreign policy, military and technology backgrounds.”

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Long expected.

Sears Files For Bankruptcy (CNBC)

After years of Sears Holdings staying afloat through financial maneuvering and relying on billions of CEO Eddie Lampert’s own money, the 125-year-old retailer filed for bankruptcy. The filing comes more than a decade after Lampert merged Sears and Kmart, hoping that forging together the two struggling discounters would create a more formidable competitor. It comes after Lampert shed assets and spun out real estate, all to pay down the debt the retailer accumulated when that plan went askew. The company still has roughly 700 stores, which have at times been barren, unstocked by vendors who have lost their trust.

Many of the stores have never been visited by a generation of shoppers that can barely recall it was once the the country’s biggest retailer. Lampert, who has a controlling ownership stake in Sears, personally holds some 31 percent of the retailer’s shares outstanding, according to FactSet. His hedge fund ESL Investments owns about 19 percent. Ultimately, it was a $134 million payment that did the company in. The company had a payment due Monday it had not the money to pay.

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Why does this still need to be explained?

The Housing Crisis Will Not Be Solved By Building More Homes (FT)

With great flourish, Theresa May last week announced that she was lifting the borrowing cap which constrains local councils’ ability to finance new housebuilding. “We will only fix this broken market by building more homes,” the prime minister said. “Solving the housing crisis is the biggest domestic policy challenge of our generation. It doesn’t make sense to stop councils from playing their part in solving it. So today I can announce that we are scrapping that cap.” Nope. In reality, councils – or anyone else for that matter – building more homes will do very little to address the fundamental problem in the housing market, and if you want to understand why, there’s a new book which explains it.

‘Why Can’t You Afford To Buy A Home?’ by Josh Ryan-Collins – a researcher at University College London’s Institute for Innovation and Public Purpose – is about the phenomenon which he dubs ‘residential capitalism’. It follows on from his less snappily-titled volume ‘Rethinking The Economics of Land and Housing’, which was written jointly with fellow economist Laurie Macfarlane and policy wonk Toby Lloyd and published last year. Both books address the question of why a growing number of people are being priced out of the property market, with rising house prices accelerating away from household incomes. The answer is financialisation – and it is not an aberration, according to Ryan-Collins.

The ‘housing crisis’ needs to be understood primarily as a product of the banking system. For starters it’s not just a British problem; this is a trend which has gripped developed economies across the world over the past three decades. “Two of the key ingredients of contemporary capitalist societies, private home ownership and a lightly regulated commercial banking system, are not mutually compatible,” he writes. Instead they “create a self-reinforcing feedback cycle”. [..] In the early 1980s, business lending equated to around 40 per cent of GDP on average in advanced economies, while mortgage lending was around 25 per cent. By the time of the financial crisis, mortgage lending had grown to 75 per cent of GDP while business lending had only grown slightly, to 45 per cent.

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The Chinese will hold Beijing responsible when their housing bubble bursts.

Violence, Public Anger Erupts In China As Home Prices Slide (ZH)

Last March, we discussed why few things are as important for China’s wealth effect and economy, as its housing bubble market. Specifically, as Deutsche Bank calculated at the time, “in 2016 the rise of property prices boosted household wealth in 37 tier 1 and tier 2 cities by RMB24 trillion, almost twice their total disposable income of RMB12.9 trillion.” The German lender added that this (rather fleeting) wealth effect “may be helping to sustain consumption in China despite slowing income growth” warning that “a decline of property price would obviously have a large negative impact.” Naturally, as long as the housing bubble keeps inflating and prices keep rising, there is nothing to worry about as the population will keep spending money buoyed by illusory wealth appreciation.

It is when housing starts to drop that Beijing begins to panic. Fast forward to today, when Beijing may be starting to sweat because whereas Chinese property developers usually count on September and October to be their “gold and silver” months for sales, this year has turned out to be different. As the SCMP reports, not only were sales figures grim for September, but the seven-day national holiday last week also brought at least two “fangnao” incidents – when angry, and often violent, homeowners protest against price cuts offered by developers to new buyers.

These protests are often directed at sales offices, with varying levels of intensity – from throwing rocks to holding banners and putting up funeral wreaths. The risk, of course, is that as what has gone up (wealth effect) will come down, and as home ownership has remained the most important channel of investment for urban households in China in the past decade, price cuts have become increasingly unacceptable and a cause for social unrest. Just last week, angry homeowners who paid full price for units at the Xinzhou Mansion residential project in Shangrao attacked the Country Garden sales office in eastern Jiangxi province last week, after finding out it had offered discounts to new buyers of up to 30%.

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There is no solution that everyone can accept.

‘Intense Effort’ Fails To Seal UK-EU Brexit Deal After Sunday Talks (AP)

The European Union’s top Brexit negotiator says urgent talks with Britain’s point person did not result in their reaching agreement on outstanding issues. EU negotiator Michel Barnier said: “Despite intense efforts, some key issues are still open” in the divorce talks between the European Union and Britain. Barnier and his British counterpart, Dominic Raab, met in Brussels for surprise talks on Sunday. The discussion prompted rumors that a full agreement might be imminent, but Barnier says the future of the border on the island of Ireland remain a serious obstacle. He says the need “to avoid a hard border” between Ireland and the U.K’s Northern Ireland is among the unsettled issues. An EU official says no further negotiations are planned before an EU leaders summit on Wednesday.

The “Irish backstop” is the main hurdle to a deal that spells out the terms of Britain’s departure from the EU and future relationship with the bloc. After Brexit, the currently invisible frontier between Northern Ireland and Ireland will be the U.K.’s only land border with an EU nation. Britain and the EU agree there must be no customs checks or other infrastructure on the border, but do not agree on how that can be accomplished. The EU’s “backstop” solution — to keep Northern Ireland in a customs union with the bloc — has been rejected by Britain because it would require checks between Northern Ireland and the rest of the U.K.

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Budget was accepted by almost two thirds in Senate and Parliament.

The EU Wants Fiscal Austerity In A Sinking Economy (CNBC)

Over the last three years, net exports shaved 0.5 percent off Italy’s quasi stagnant 1.1 percent GDP growth. And while exports in the first seven months of this year increased 4 percent from the year earlier, that did absolutely nothing to revive the country’s manufacturing output. The industrial production during the January-to-July period dropped at an annual rate of 0.5 percent. That, of course, bodes ill for business investments because the weakness in the manufacturing sector indicates plenty of spare production capacity. In other words, Italian businesses need no new machines and bigger factory floors; they already have what they need to meet the current and expected sales demand.

So, what’s left to support Italy’s jobs and incomes? Nothing — emphatically nothing — keeps screaming the German-run EU: Italy has no independent monetary policy, and, according to the EU Commission, the fiscal stance should remain frozen in a restrictive mode of indefinite duration. Italy knows what that means. Before the onset of the last decade’s financial crisis, and the German-imposed fiscal austerity, Italy’s budget deficit in 2007 was whittled down to 1.5 percent of GDP (compared to nearly 3 percent of GDP in France), the primary budget surplus (budget before interest charges on public debt) was driven up to 1.7 percent of GDP, helping to bring down the public debt to 112 percent of GDP from an annual average of 117 percent in the previous six years.

But then all hell broke loose once the Germans — defiantly rejecting Washington’s call to reason — set out to teach a lesson to “fiscal miscreants” by imposing austerity policies on the euro area’s sinking economies. Italy should never allow that to happen again. What, then, should Italy do? The answer is simple: Exactly what it says it wants to do in the 2019 budget passed last Thursday by an overwhelming majority in the Senate (61 percent of the votes) and in the Parliament’s Lower House (63.4 percent of the votes).

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Not just conservatives, the SPD is going going gone as well.

Merkel’s Conservative Allies Humiliated in Bavaria Election (G.)

Angela Merkel’s conservative partners in Bavaria have had their worst election performance for more than six decades, in a humiliating state poll result that is likely to further weaken Germany’s embattled coalition government. The Christian Social Union secured 37.3% of the vote, preliminary results showed, losing the absolute majority in the prosperous southern state it had had almost consistently since the second world war. The party’s support fell below 40% for the first time since 1954. Markus Söder, the prime minister of Bavaria, called it a “difficult day” for the CSU, but said his party had a clear mandate to form a government.

Among the main victors was the environmental, pro-immigration Green party, which as predicted almost doubled its voter share to 17.8% at the expense of the Social Democratic party (SPD), which lost its position as the second-biggest party, with support halving to 9.5%. Annalena Baerbock, the co-leader of the Greens, said: “Today Bavaria voted to uphold human rights and humanity.” Andrea Nahles, the leader of the SPD, delivered the briefest of reactions at her party’s headquarters in Berlin, calling the results “bitter” and blaming them on the poor performance of the grand coalition in Berlin.

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But this suggests that gene editing would be very expensive.

Stephen Hawking Predicted Race Of ‘Superhumans’ (G.)

The late physicist and author Prof Stephen Hawking has caused controversy by suggesting a new race of superhumans could develop from wealthy people choosing to edit their and their children’s DNA. Hawking, the author of A Brief History of Time, who died in March, made the predictions in a collection of articles and essays. The scientist presented the possibility that genetic engineering could create a new species of superhuman that could destroy the rest of humanity. The essays, published in the Sunday Times, were written in preparation for a book that will be published on Tuesday. “I am sure that during this century, people will discover how to modify both intelligence and instincts such as aggression,” he wrote.

“Laws will probably be passed against genetic engineering with humans. But some people won’t be able to resist the temptation to improve human characteristics, such as memory, resistance to disease and length of life.” In Brief Answers to the Big Questions, Hawking’s final thoughts on the universe, the physicist suggested wealthy people would soon be able to choose to edit genetic makeup to create superhumans with enhanced memory, disease resistance, intelligence and longevity. Hawking raised the prospect that breakthroughs in genetics will make it attractive for people to try to improve themselves, with implications for “unimproved humans”. “Once such superhumans appear, there will be significant political problems with unimproved humans, who won’t be able to compete,” he wrote. “Presumably, they will die out, or become unimportant. Instead, there will be a race of self-designing beings who are improving at an ever-increasing rate.”

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Oct 122018
 
 October 12, 2018  Posted by at 9:22 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


M. C. Escher Order and chaos 1950

 

Donald Trump is Right About the Fed (Whalen)
Stocks Could Fall 40% To 50% To Reach Fair Value – Yusko (CNBC)
4 Pillars of Debt in Danger of Collapse (Nomi Prins)
The Dollar and its Discontents (Eichengreen)
China September Exports Surge, Creating Record Surplus With US (R.)
Facebook, Twitter Purge More Dissident Media Pages (CJ)
Italian Parliament Approves Controversial New Spending Targets (AP)
Turks Had Saudi Consulate Bugged With Audio (ZH)
Journalist’s Disappearance Hardens Congress Stance On Saudi Arms Deals (R.)
More Than A Million UK Residents Live In ‘Food Deserts’ (G.)

 

 

Chris Whalen on the absence of price discovery.

Donald Trump is Right About the Fed (Whalen)

President Donald Trump has been criticizing the Federal Open Market Committee for raising interest rates. The reaction of the US equity markets is self explanatory. But while the economist love cult in the Big Media may take umbrage at President Trump’s critique of the central bank, in fact Trump is dead right. First, the Fed’s actions in terms of buying $4 trillion in Treasury debt and mortgage paper has badly crippled the value of the fixed income market as a measure of risk. The Treasury yield curve no longer accurately describes the term structure of interest rates or risk premiums. This means that the Treasury yield curve is useless as an indicator of or guide for policy. Nobody at the Federal Reserve Board understands this issue or cares.

Second, Operation Twist further manipulated and distorted the Treasury market. By selling short-term paper and buying long dated securities, the Fed suppressed long-term interest rates, again making indicators like the 10-year Treasury bond useless as an measure of risk. Without QE 2-3 and Operation Twist, the 10-Year Treasury would be well over 4% by now. Instead it is 3% and change and will probably rally to test 3% between now and year end. Third is the real issuing bothering President Trump, even if he cannot find the precise words, namely liquidity. We have the illusion of liquidity in the financial markets today. Sell Side firms are prohibited by Dodd-Frank and the Volcker Rule from deploying capital in the cash equity and debt markets. All bank portfolios are now passive. No trading, no market making. There is nobody to catch the falling knife.

The only credit being extended today in the short-term markets is with collateral. There is no longer any unsecured lending between banks and, especially, non-banks. As we noted in The Institutional Risk Analyst earlier this week, there are scores of nonbank lenders in mortgages, autos and consumer unsecured lending that are ready to go belly up. Half of the non-bank mortgage lenders in the US are in default on their bank credit lines. As in 2007, the model builders at the Fed in Washington have no idea nor do they care to hear outside opinions. If you understand that the Fed’s previous “extraordinary” policy actions have the effect of understating LT interest rates by at least a percentage point, then you know why President Trump is howling like a wounded hound. Nobody understands the danger of leverage better than a real estate developer.

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But nobody says it’ll take 70-80%. Why?

Stocks Could Fall 40% To 50% To Reach Fair Value – Yusko (CNBC)

Investors should brace themselves for a significant stock market correction, as well as a recession in the first half of next year, investor Mark Yusko warned on Thursday. In fact, he says, fair value for equities would be down about 40 percent to 50 percent. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean the stock market will have to go to fair value, Yusko said. “If interest rates keep normalizing, if liquidity keeps falling, if earnings go to where I think they are going to go, which is lower, I think we are going to have a meaningful correction,” the founder and chief investment officer at Morgan Creek Capital said on CNBC’s “Power Lunch.”

Yusko, a noted stock picker who took first place in Portfolios with Purpose’s fantasy stock-picking contest in 2016, predicts a recession in the first or second quarter of 2019. “Things are paying out now just like they did in 2000, 2001, 2002,” he said. In the back part of 2000, the stock market went down, 2001 brought a recession, and in 2002 the stock market took a big turn down. “It’s just going to be painful for a while to adjust this overvaluation,” Yusko added. [..] Yusko also questioned whether the economy is really strong. “We had one good quarter. We’ve been sub 2 percent [economic growth] for six years,” he said. Plus, forecasts are that GDP is going to be lower than expectations in the third quarter and even lower in the fourth quarter, and there are bad demographics and bad debt, he added.

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“..there’s now even less reason to believe the Fed will raise rates at the next meeting in December.”

4 Pillars of Debt in Danger of Collapse (Nomi Prins)

Last month I was in a series of high-level meetings with members of Congress and the Senate in Washington. While there’s been major news about the Supreme Court, my discussions were on something that both sides of the aisle are coming to consensus over. You see, issues that impact your own bottom line are way more about economics than they are about politics. On Capitol Hill, leaders know that. They also know that voters react to what impacts their money. That’s why, behind the scenes, I’ve been discussing issues focused on protecting the economy. Behind closed doors, we’ve been working on how to shield the economy from Too Big to Fail banks and how the U.S. can better fund infrastructure projects. These are initiatives that all politicians should care about.

Underneath the surface of the economy is a financial system that is heavily influenced by the Federal Reserve. That’s why political figures and the media alike have all tried to understand what direction the system is headed. Also last week I joined Fox Business at their headquarters to discuss the economy, the Fed and what they all mean for the markets. On camera, we discussed this week’s Federal Reserve meeting and the likely outcomes. Off camera, we jumped into a similar discussion that those in DC have pressed me on. Charles Payne, the Fox host, asked me what I thought of new Fed chairman, Jerome Powell, in general. Payne knew that I view the entire central bank system as a massive artificial bank and market stimulant.

What I told him is that Powell actually has a good sense of balance in terms of what he does with rates, and the size of the Fed’s book. He understands the repercussion that moving rates too much, too quickly, or selling off the assets, could have on the global economy and the markets. Savvy investors know that if the U.S. economy falters, because everything is connected, it could reverberate on the world. That’s why I could forecast that the Fed would raise rates by 25 basis points last week ahead of time. And they did. However, there’s now even less reason to believe the Fed will raise rates at the next meeting in December.

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Could USD lose its position in just 5-10 years?

The Dollar and its Discontents (Eichengreen)

It is worth recalling how the dollar gained international prominence in the first place. Before 1914, it played essentially no international role. But a geopolitical shock, together with an institutional change, transformed the dollar’s status. The geopolitical shock was World War I, which made it hard for neutral countries to transact with British banks and settle their accounts using sterling. The institutional change was the Federal Reserve Act, which created an entity that enhanced the liquidity of markets in dollar-denominated credits and allowed US banks to operate abroad for the first time. By the early 1920s the dollar had matched and, on some dimensions, surpassed sterling as the principal vehicle for international transactions.

This precedent suggests that 5-10 years is a plausible time frame over which the US could lose what Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, then France’s finance minister, famously called the “exorbitant privilege” afforded it by issuing the world’s main international currency. This doesn’t mean that foreign banks and companies will shun the dollar entirely. US financial markets are large and liquid and are likely to remain so. US banks operate globally. In particular, foreign companies will continue to use dollars in transactions with the US itself.

But in an era of US unilateralism, they will want to hedge their bets. If the geopolitical shock of Trump’s unilateralism spurs an institutional innovation that makes it easier for European banks and companies to make payments in euros, then the transformation could be swift (as it were). If Iran receives euros rather than dollars for its oil exports, it will use those euros to pay for merchandise imports. With companies elsewhere earning euros rather than dollars, there will be less reason for central banks to hold dollars in order to intervene in the foreign exchange market and stabilize the local currency against the greenback. At this point, there would be no going back.

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Before more tariffs kick in.

China September Exports Surge, Creating Record Surplus With US (R.)

China reported on Friday an unexpected acceleration in export growth in September and a record trade surplus with the United States, which could exacerbate an already-heated dispute between Beijing and Washington. September exports rose 14.5 percent from a year earlier, Chinese customs data showed. That blew past forecasts for an 8.9 percent increase in a Reuters poll and was well above August’s 9.8 percent gain. Growth in imports for September instead showed a moderate slowdown to 14.3 percent from 19.9 percent in August, slightly missing analysts’ forecast of a 15.0 percent growth.

China’s trade surplus with the United States widened to a record in September despite wider application of U.S. tariffs, an outcome that could push President Donald Trump to turn up the heat on Beijing in their trade dispute. The politically-sensitive surplus was $34.13 billion in September, surpassing the record of $31.05 billion in August. China’s export data has been surprisingly resilient to tariffs, possibly because companies ramped up shipments before broader and stiffer U.S. duties went into effect.

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Is it election time?

Facebook, Twitter Purge More Dissident Media Pages (CJ)

Facebook has purged more dissident political media pages today, this time under the pretense of protecting its users from “inauthentic activity”. In a statement co-authored by Facebook Head of Cybersecurity Nathaniel Gleicher (who also happens to be the former White House National Security Council Director of Cybersecurity Policy), the massive social media platform explained that it has removed “559 Pages and 251 accounts that have consistently broken our rules against spam and coordinated inauthentic behavior.”

This “inauthentic behavior”, according to Facebook, consists of using “sensational political content -regardless of its political slant- to build an audience and drive traffic to their websites,” which is the same as saying they write about controversial things, and posting those political articles “in dozens of Facebook Groups, often hundreds of times in a short period, to drum up traffic for their websites.” In other words, the pages were removed for publishing controversial political content and trying to get people to read it. Not for writing “fake news”, but for doing what they could to get legitimate indie media news stories viewed by people who might want to view it.

[..] Two of the most high-profile pages which were shut down have probably been seen at some point by any political dissident who uses Facebook; the Free Thought Project, which had 3.1 million followers, and Anti-Media, which had 2.1 million. [..] As if that wasn’t creepy enough, some of the accounts purged by Facebook appear to be getting censored on Twitter as well, bringing back memories of the August cross-platform coordinated silencing of Alex Jones. The aforementioned Anti-Media has now been suspended from Twitter just hours after tweeting about being removed from Facebook, along with one of its top writers Carey Wedler, and a Unicorn Riot activist named Patti Beers who had more than 30,000 Twitter followers has just been removed from both sites as well.

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“EU rules do not allow the ECB to help a country unless this has already agreed on a rescue “program”..

Italian Parliament Approves Controversial New Spending Targets (AP)

Italy’s parliament approved on Thursday deficit-raising spending targets, defying markets and Italy’s eurozone partners who had been pressing for changes. The parliamentary vote clears the proposals to be forwarded to the European Commission for review. But the document already has been criticized as unrealistic by the parliament’s own budget office and the Bank of Italy. The new spending targets are set to raise Italy’s deficit to 2.4 per cent of GDP next year. In a slight softening, Italy’s leaders pledged to lower the deficit in the subsequent two years. But that has done little to assuage concern over the boost in spending to meet a raft of campaign promises made by the two populist parties that formed the governing coalition, and the impact it will have on Italy’s high public debt.

Also on Thursday, five senior sources told Reuters that the European Central Bank won’t come to Italy’s rescue if its governments or bank sector run out of cash unless the country secures a bailout from the European Union. Italy has seen its borrowing costs surge on financial markets since its new government unveiled plans to increase its budget deficit, defying EU rules and reawakening concerns about its huge pile of public debt. The sources, attending an economic summit in Indonesia, said Italy could still avoid a debt crisis if its government changed course but should not count on the central bank to tame investors or prop up its banks.

This is because EU rules do not allow the ECB to help a country unless this has already agreed on a rescue “program” – political jargon for a bailout in exchange for belt-tightening and painful economic reforms, an option the Italian government has firmly rejected. Any attempt to circumvent those rules would damage the ECB’s credibility beyond repair and undermine acceptance of the monetary union in creditor countries, such as Germany, the sources said. “It’s a test-case to show Europe and its mechanisms work,” said one of the sources on the sidelines of the IMF’s annual meetings in the Indonesian resort town of Nusa Dua.

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You don’t need 15 guys to kill someone.

Turks Had Saudi Consulate Bugged With Audio (ZH)

The Washington Post has provided further details on its prior reporting that US intelligence knew full well that Saudi Arabia was seeking to lure the now disappeared and allegedly murdered journalist Jamal Khashoggi to its embassy in Istanbul in order detain or kill him. In an interesting new revelation the Post speculates based on intel sources that the whole October 2nd incident may have been an attempted “rendition” gone wrong. As more damning evidence emerges showing a Saudi “hit team” of 15 military and intelligence individuals murdered Khashoggi and chopped up his body to carry out of the country, there now appears a strong consensus that the order may have come straight from the top, most likely from crown prince Mohammed bin Salman (MbS) himself.

Middle East Eye, for example, concludes based on WaPo’s prior report, “Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the country’s de facto ruler, ordered an operation targeting journalist and US resident Jamal Khashoggi… citing US intelligence intercepts.” What’s more is that NBC now reports that the Turks had the Saudi consulate bugged with listening devices before the disappearance and what now appears to be gruesome murder — which suggests Turkey is currently in possession of an audio recording of the alleged killing.

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Yeah, right..

Journalist’s Disappearance Hardens Congress Stance On Saudi Arms Deals (R.)

The disappearance of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi has hardened resistance in the U.S. Congress to selling weapons to Saudi Arabia, already a sore point for many lawmakers concerned about the humanitarian crisis created by Yemen’s civil war. Even before Turkish reports said Khashoggi was killed at a Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Democratic U.S. lawmakers had placed “holds” on at least four military equipment deals, largely because of Saudi attacks that have killed Yemeni civilians. President Donald Trump was wary of halting arms sales over the case, saying on Thursday the kingdom would just move its money into Russia and China.

[..] An informal U.S. review process lets the top Republicans and Democrats on the Senate Foreign Relations and House Foreign Affairs Committees stall major foreign arms deals if they have concerns such as whether weapons would be used to kill civilians. Corker said he recently told a defense contractor not to push for a deal with the Saudis, even before the Khashoggi case. “I shared with him before this happened, please do not push to have any arms sales brought up right now because they will not pass. It will not happen. With this, I can assure it won’t happen for a while,” Corker said. While details of all the blocked Saudi deals were not immediately available, one was the planned sale of hundreds of millions of dollars worth of high-tech munitions to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

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“She occasionally gets a taxi but finds that depletes her food budget. “A taxi is a meal..”

More Than A Million UK Residents Live In ‘Food Deserts’ (G.)

More than a million people in the UK live in “food deserts” – neighbourhoods where poverty, poor public transport and a dearth of big supermarkets severely limit access to affordable fresh fruit and vegetables, a study has claimed. Nearly one in 10 of the country’s most economically deprived areas are food deserts, it says – typically large out-of-town housing estates and deprived inner-city wards served by a handful of small, relatively expensive corner shops. Public health experts are concerned that these neighbourhoods – which are often also “food swamps” with high densities of fast-food outlets – are helping to fuel a rise in diet-related conditions such as obesity and diabetes, as well as driving food insecurity.

The most deprived areas include Marfleet in Hull, Hartcliffe in Bristol, Hattersley in Greater Manchester, Everton in Liverpool and Sparkbrook in Birmingham. Eight of Scotland’s 10 most deprived food deserts are in Glasgow, and three of Wales’s nine worst are in Cardiff. The study, by the Social Market Foundation thinktank and food company Kellogg’s, says poor, elderly and disabled people are disproportionately affected, as they cannot afford or are physically unable to travel to large supermarkets.

Food deserts are defined by the report as neighbourhoods of between 5,000-15,000 people served by two or fewer big supermarkets. In “normal” areas of this size there are typically between three and seven large food stores, it says. Small shops are less likely to sell fresh or healthy food. The report cites Lisa Cauchi, a mother of eight in Salford, in the north-west of England, who said the nearest reliable source of affordable fresh fruit and vegetables was a big supermarket half an hour’s walk away. She occasionally gets a taxi but finds that depletes her food budget. “A taxi is a meal,” she said.

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Sep 302018
 
 September 30, 2018  Posted by at 9:30 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  


M. C. Escher Bond of union 1956

 

White House Directs FBI to Interview Two Kavanaugh Accusers, Not Third (WSJ)
Where Does Our Attention Belong: Kavanaugh or Yemen? (PCR)
“Dirty Money” Crackdown As Vancouver Housing Market Grinds To A Halt (ZH)
May Acts To Tackle Housing Crisis By Imposing Levy On Foreign Buyers (O.)
Brexit Costing Britain £500m A Week And Rising (O.)
Steve Bannon Thinks Michael Avenatti Has A Serious Shot In 2020 (ZH)
New WikiLeaks Release: Corruption in UAE Arms Deal Fueling War on Yemen (MPN)
Musk Out As Tesla Chair, Remains CEO in $40M SEC Settlement (AP)
How Facebook Was Hacked And Why It’s A Disaster For Internet Security (F.)
Fearing Debt Trap, Pakistan Rethinks Chinese ‘Silk Road’ Projects (R.)
FYROM Citizens Go to the Polls to Decide on Name Change (GR)
Indonesia Earthquake: Huge Surge In Death Toll (BBC)

 

 

Swetnick’s gang rape story looks far-fetched. And not one person corroborates it.

White House Directs FBI to Interview Two Kavanaugh Accusers, Not Third (WSJ)

The Federal Bureau of Investigation has been instructed by the White House to interview two of the women who have alleged sexual misconduct by Brett Kavanaugh, according to people familiar with the matter. The parameters of the FBI probe don’t include interviewing Julie Swetnick, who said this week the Supreme Court nominee attended a party decades ago where she was gang-raped, according to one of the people. The focus on the first two accusations suggests that the White House doesn’t consider Ms. Swetnick’s accusations credible, people familiar with the instructions said, a decision that drew criticism from Ms. Swetnick’s attorney, Michael Avenatti.

The Wall Street Journal has attempted to corroborate Ms. Swetnick’s account, contacting dozens of former classmates and colleagues, but couldn’t reach anyone with knowledge of her allegations. No friends have come forward to publicly support her claims. She has recorded a TV interview to be aired Sunday, the first woman making accusations against the Supreme Court nominee to do so. NBC’s “Morning Joe” on Thursday aired a clip of her interview with John Heilemann of Showtime’s “The Circus,” in which Ms. Swetnick called for an investigation into the allegations against Judge Kavanaugh.

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Paul Craig Roberts is right, but undermines himself by saying women should have more responsible sex.

Where Does Our Attention Belong: Kavanaugh or Yemen? (PCR)

There are reports that the Washington-initiated and militarily- supported Saudi Arabian war against Yemen have a starving Yemeni population eating leaves. The Saudis, with Washington’s GPS support, continue to target school busses, massacring children as an element of the terror assault against the population, trying to break Yemeni resistance by murdering children on school busses. Washington continues to supply the Saudis with the weapons to target school buses and the diplomatic support to protect the criminal Saudi regime from war crimes charges. The European cowards turn their heads. Even Russia is silent. Putin’s “partnership” with the criminal state of Saudi Arabia is more important.

Isn’t this a far greater offense, an offense that most definitely does not lack evidence, than the accusation that Kavanaugh, a nominee to the US Supreme Court attempted to rape a women 30 or 40 years ago, for which there is no evidence, only accusation, an accusation that the female defense atttorney who questioned for the Senate committee the woman claiming abuse found insufficient for an indictment.

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Signs the housing bubbles are nearing their end. This article and the next.

“Dirty Money” Crackdown As Vancouver Housing Market Grinds To A Halt (ZH)

Thanks to an influx of demand from Chinese nationals and other foreigners, Vancouver’s housing market soared in the post-crisis years, with prices more than doubling to levels that were clearly unsustainable, cementing the Pacific Northwest metropolis’ status as the most unaffordable housing market in North America. But the torrid growth ground to a halt earlier this year as home sales plummeted, along with construction of new homes and apartments. The typical single-family home in Vancouver costs more than C$1.5 million ($1.15 million) – roughly 20x the median household income. In an effort to let some air out of one of the continent’s most egregious property bubbles, British Columbia’s government has announced an unprecedented crackdown on money laundering in Vancouver’s property market in an attempt to stop a housing-market collapse from taking the city’s GDP with it.

The initiative, launched by Attorney General Daid Eby, seeks to create more transparency to expose all the “numbered corporations” (often used as fronts for foreign investors) buying property in Vancouver. The probe will also examine horse-racing and luxury car sales. Attorney General David Eby said that his office is launching an independent review into potential money laundering in real estate, horse-racing and luxury car sales. The review comes in response to recommendations from a previous review into money laundering in the province’s casinos. In addition, Finance Minister Carole James has appointed an expert panel to look directly at money laundering in the housing sector. Both probes will be done by March.

“There is good reason to believe the bulk of the cash we saw in casinos is a fraction of the cash generated through illicit activities that may be circulating in British Columbia’s economy,” Eby told reporters Thursday in the capital of Victoria. “We cannot ignore red flags that came out of the casino reviews of connections between individuals bringing bulk cash to casinos, and our real estate market.” […] “Our goal is simple, as you’ve heard: Get dirty money out of our housing market,” James said. “When the real estate market is vulnerable to illicit activity and unethical behavior, people, our communities and our economies suffer. This is something we have to tackle.”

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Foreign buyers have carried the boom for years. And now you act?

May Acts To Tackle Housing Crisis By Imposing Levy On Foreign Buyers (O.)

Foreign buyers of properties in the UK will have to pay a new levy, in a renewed attempt by Theresa May to tackle the housing crisis. With concern growing among senior Tories that the party has allowed Brexit to drown out a compelling domestic agenda, plans unveiled on Saturday night will see foreign buyers pay extra stamp duty to fund a drive to tackle rough sleeping. The announcement marks the start of the party’s conference in Birmingham, where the prime minister is desperate to avoid another row over her Brexit plans that might threaten to engulf her premiership. Ministers are also concerned that the party has been failing to respond to the radicalism of some of Labour’s economic programme, set out at its own conference in Liverpool last week.

On Sunday the prime minister will attempt to return to her vow to tackle social injustices and champion what she describes as the “British dream” – the idea that the next generation should do better than the last. Fixing the housing market is a major part of the programme. It comes as the latest Opinium poll for the Observer suggest the Conservatives take a three-point lead into their conference. Despite being carried out during the Labour conference week, which can often provide a poll bounce, the poll puts the Tories on 39% support, with Labour on 36%. According to Opinium, Labour had entered its conference with a two-point lead.

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Just the start.

Brexit Costing Britain £500m A Week And Rising (O.)

Brexit is already costing the public purse £500m a week, new research has found – a stark contrast to the £350m “dividend” promised by the Leave campaign. The Centre for European Reform’s analysis also suggests that the government’s austerity drive would be on the way to completion had Britain voted to stay in the European Union. It shows that the UK economy is already 2.5% smaller than it would have been had Remain won the referendum. Public finances have been dented by £26bn a year, more than half of the defence budget. This translates to a penalty of £500m a week, a figure that is growing. The stark finding comes as the Tory conference begins in Birmingham, with Theresa May’s premiership under severe strain.

The prime minister faces competing proposals from cabinet ministers over how she should resolve the Brexit impasse with the EU. The febrile conference coincides with explosive claims that the boss of one UK-based carmaker has been flown by private jet to meet President Emmanuel Macron, in an attempt to persuade the company to move manufacturing to France after Brexit. Carolyn Fairbairn, director general of the Confederation of British Industry, told the Observer this development was a sign of the economic damage Britain faces from the wrong Brexit deal. While some cabinet ministers are pushing for a loose, Canada-style trade deal, support is growing in May’s ministerial team and on her backbenches for a deal under which Britain would stay closely tied to the EU for a limited period.

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A three way race.

Steve Bannon Thinks Michael Avenatti Has A Serious Shot In 2020 (ZH)

Former Trump strategist Steve Bannon said on Friday that attorney Michael Avenatti could become the Democratic nominee for president in 2020. Speaking with Bill Maher about the state of the Democratic party, Bannon agreed with the HBO host that Avenatti – lawyer to porn star Stormy Daniels and Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s “gang rape” accuser – can capture the left with his bravado and plain spoken language. “The guy who’s the outsider, who like blows through the regular politician because he looks different and he’s got balls,” said Maher – to which Bannon replied: “If Bernie Sanders had an ounce of Avenatti’s fearlessness, he would have been the Democratic nominee and we would have had a much tougher time beating him.”

“Bernie doesn’t have fearlessness?” asked Maher. “Not like Avenatti,” Bannon replied. “I’ve not done any due diligence on this guy, but I tell you he’s got a fearlessness and he’s a fighter. I think he’ll go through a lot of this field if he decides to stick with it.” “I don’t happen to think a professional politician is going to be there at the end of the day. I’ve always said it’s going to be an Oprah or an Avenatti — somebody who’s more media savvy,” said Bannon. “You’re gonna have Trump on the right, a politician, maybe a Kamala Harris or somebody on the left, and I think you’ll have a Bloomberg or a Romney or somebody in the center,” Bannon concluded. “I think it will be a three-way race.”

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Assange is no longer in charge, which makes room for more releases. This is about Germany and France.

New WikiLeaks Release Exposes Corruption in UAE Arms Deal Fueling War on Yemen

The transparency organization WikiLeaks just released a new document that sheds light on the corruption behind a lucrative French-German arms deal with the United Arab Emirates (UAE), weapons that are currently being used to wage a disastrous and genocidal war against the people of Yemen. The document details a court case from the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) International Court of Arbitration regarding a dispute over a “commission payment” made to Abbas Ibrahim Yousef Al-Yousef, an Emirati businessman, as part of a $3.6 billion arms deal between France’s state-owned weapons company Nexter Systems (then GIAT Industries SA) and the UAE.

Per the deal, which was signed in 1993 and set to conclude in 2008, the UAE purchased 388 Leclerc combat tanks, 46 armored vehicles, 2 training tanks, and spare parts, as well as ammunition. Those weapons have been an important part of the UAE and Saudi coalition’s war in Yemen since it began in 2015. The war has killed over ten thousand civilians, largely the result of the Saudi/UAE bombing campaign, which has targeted and crippled the country’s civilian infrastructure. The result of those bombings, as well as of the UAE/Saudi blockade of Yemen, has been over 17 million people near starvation – including 5.2 million children – and preventable disease epidemics that have claimed tens of thousands of additional lives.

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Big surge in share prices Monday, from whish Musk will profit?

Musk Out As Tesla Chair, Remains CEO in $40M SEC Settlement (AP)

Tesla and its CEO Elon Musk have agreed to pay a total of $40 million and make a series of concessions to settle a government lawsuit alleging Musk duped investors with misleading statements about a proposed buyout of the company. The settlement with the Securities and Exchange Commission allows Musk to remain CEO of the electric car company but requires him to relinquish his role as chairman for at least three years. Tesla must hire an independent chairman to oversee the company, something that should please a number of shareholders who have criticized Tesla’s board for being too beholden to Musk. The deal was announced Saturday, just two days after SEC filed its case seeking to oust Musk as CEO.

Musk, who has an estimated $20 billion fortune, and Tesla, a company that ended June with $2.2 billion in cash, each are paying $20 million to resolve the case, which stemmed from a tweet Musk sent on Aug. 7 indicating he had the financing in place to take Tesla private at a price of $420 per share. “A reckless tweet cost a lot of money — the $20-million tweet,” said Michelle Krebs, executive analyst at Autotrader. [..] Tesla’s stock plummeted 14 percent Friday after the SEC filed its lawsuit, erasing more than $7 billion in shareholder wealth. Many analysts predicted the shares were bound to fall even further if Musk had been forced to step down. Tesla’s stock has dropped 30 percent since Aug. 7, closing Friday at $264.77.

The steep downturn in Tesla’s market value may have influenced Musk to have an apparent change of heart and negotiate a settlement. Musk had rejected a similar settlement offer before the SEC sued Thursday, maintaining he had done nothing wrong when he posted a tweet declaring that he had secured the financing to lead a buyout of Tesla.

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Serious. Incompetent.

How Facebook Was Hacked And Why It’s A Disaster For Internet Security (F.)

Facebook dropped a bombshell on Friday when it revealed an unknown hacker had breached the site, compromising the accounts of 50 million users. The company’s security team found three bugs were used in the attacks, saying they were used in combination to successfully break into Facebook accounts. Forbes spoke with professional web app hacker and cybersecurity researcher Thomas Shadwell, who pieced together a likely hypothesis on how the mystery hacker or hackers carried out what’s believed to be the most significant ever attack to have hit the social media beast. The perpetrator’s ultimate aim was to steal what are known as “OAuth bearer tokens.” Essentially, these tokens prove the Facebook user is the rightful owner of an account and denote what they have access to.

As Shadwell describes them: “OAuth tokens are like car keys, if you’re holding them you can use them, there’s no discrimination of the holder.” And in the context of this attack, those keys unlocked not just Facebook accounts, but any site that affected users accessed with a Facebook login. That might include Instagram or news websites. To get those keys, the hackers abused a feature in Facebook called “View As.” It allows any user to see what another can access on their profile. For instance, if you’ve blocked your dad from looking at your photos, you can check it’s working by effectively impersonating your father and viewing your profile. “It looks like when Facebook built the View As feature, they did this by making it a modification of how Facebook would work if actually viewed by that other user,” said Shadwell.

“Which of course means if there’s a mistake they might end up sending the impersonated user’s credentials to the user of the ‘View As’ feature.” This is where things get a bit weirder. If a user, via View As, impersonated a friend who themselves had a friend who had a birthday, the feature would also show a box prompting them to post a “happy birthday” video. Thanks to an error made by Facebook in July 2017, the video provided the user with one of those precious tokens, Shadwell said. More specifically, the video player generated and sent the user a token, one that would log them into the Facebook mobile app as if they were the person they were impersonating via View As. From there the user (in this case a malicious hacker) would have total access over that other person’s account.

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Increasingly, the reality of the model shines through.

Fearing Debt Trap, Pakistan Rethinks Chinese ‘Silk Road’ Projects (R.)

After lengthy delays, an $8.2 billion revamp of a colonial-era rail line snaking from the Arabian Sea to the foothills of the Hindu Kush has become a test of Pakistan’s ability to rethink signature Chinese “Silk Road” projects due to debt concerns. The rail megaproject linking the coastal metropolis of Karachi to the northwestern city of Peshawar is China’s biggest Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) project in Pakistan, but Islamabad has balked at the cost and financing terms. Resistance has stiffened under the new government of populist Prime Minister Imran Khan, who has voiced alarm about rising debt levels and says the country must wean itself off foreign loans.

“We are seeing how to develop a model so the government of Pakistan wouldn’t have all the risk,” Khusro Bakhtyar, minister in Pakistan’s planning ministry, told reporters recently. The cooling of enthusiasm for China’s investments mirrors the unease of incoming governments in Sri Lanka, Malaysia and Maldives, where new administrations have come to power wary of Chinese deals struck by their predecessors. Pakistan’s new government had wanted to review all BRI contracts. Officials say there are concerns the deals were badly negotiated, too expensive or overly favored China. But to Islamabad’s frustration, Beijing is only willing to review projects that have not yet begun, three senior government officials have told Reuters.

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Pushed through by EU and US so Balkan can join NATO. Still very contested in Greece.

FYROM Citizens Go to the Polls to Decide on Name Change (GR)

FYROM citizens are going to the polls today (Sunday) to vote on the referendum on the name change to “Republic of North Macedonia”, as agreed between their government and Greece on June 17. The question of the referendum to which Macedonian voters are asked to answer is: “Are you in favor of membership in NATO and the European Union by accepting the deal between (the) Republic of Macedonia and Republic of Greece?” Opinion polls so far show that a “Yes” in the referendum is most likely, as the majority of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia citizens are in favor of NATO and EU membership.

However, the question of the Zoran Zaev government is whether the participation is satisfactory. Specifically, 50 percent plus one of registered voters are needed to cast a ballot for the referendum results to be valid. In his referendum campaign, Prime Minister Zoran Zaev stressed the NATO and EU membership prospects for the Balkan country. Meanwhile, opponents, including the country’s president, Gjorge Ivanov, have called for a boycott of the referendum, describing the Prespa agreement with Greece a “flagrant violation of sovereignty.”

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A lot of people live there.

Indonesia Earthquake: Huge Surge In Death Toll (BBC)

At least 832 people were killed in the devastating earthquake and tsunami that hit the Indonesian island of Sulawesi, the national disaster agency says. It added that the affected area was bigger than initially thought. Many people were reported trapped in the rubble of buildings that collapsed in Friday’s 7.5-magnitude earthquake, agency spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho told a news conference. The quake triggered tsunami waves as high as 6m (20ft), he added. Rescuers have been digging by hand in the frantic search for survivors in the city of Palu.

“What we now desperately need is heavy machinery to clear the rubble. I have my staff on the ground, but it’s impossible just to rely on their strength alone to clear this,” Muhammad Syaugi, head of the national search-and-rescue agency, told AFP news agency. There have also been concerns about the town of Donggala, where the impact is still unclear. The Red Cross estimates that more than 1.6 million people have been affected by the earthquake and tsunami which it described as a tragedy that “could get much worse”. Indonesia’s Vice-President Jusuf Kalla said the final death toll could be in the thousands.

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Sep 292018
 
 September 29, 2018  Posted by at 9:20 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


M. C. Escher Corte, Corsica 1928

 

Trump Orders New FBI Probe Into Kavanaugh Following Senate Request (Ind.)
The Return Of The Inquisition (Simon Black)
Fiscal Irresponsibility (Roberts)
Junk Bonds Set For Record Winning Streak, High Grade Worst Since 2008 (ZH)
Elon Musk Believed He Had Verbal Deal With Saudis To Take Tesla Private (WSJ)
Labour Claims Theresa May’s Government ‘The Most Divided Ever’ (Ind.)
Boris Johnson’s ‘Super Canada’ Alternative Brexit Plan Rubbished (G.)
Democratizing Brexit (Varoufakis)
Facebook Says Nearly 50m Users Compromised In Huge Security Breach (G.)
Melting Arctic Ice Opens New Route From Europe To East Asia (AP)

 

 

“This country is being ripped apart here,” Mr Flake told the committee…

Trump Orders New FBI Probe Into Kavanaugh Following Senate Request (Ind.)

Donald Trump has ordered the FBI to carry out a fresh investigation into his nominee for the Supreme Court, after Republicans were obliged to delay a full confirmation vote after being blind-sided by one of their own senators. During a day of blurred and frequently confusing drama on Capitol Hill, the Senate Judiciary Committee on Friday voted 11-10 to approve Brett Kavanaugh for a confirmation vote in the full senate. But it did so, only after an 11th hour intervention from Jeff Flake, a senator from Arizona, who said his support in the later confirmation vote was dependent on the FBI being given a week to carry out an investigation into Mr Kavanaugh, the subject of sexual assault allegations from several women, all of which he denies.

“This country is being ripped apart here,” Mr Flake told the committee, after a vote scheduled for 1.30pm was delayed. “We ought to do what we can to make sure that we do all due diligence with a nomination this important.” Mr Flake’s deeds sent senior Republicans scrambling to decide how best to proceed. The senate’s Republican chairman, Chuck Grassley, who has long said he did not see the need for an additional investigation into Mr Kavanaugh, said it was the decision of Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell on when to hold the confirmation vote.

Within a matter of hours, Mr Grassley issued a statement saying he would ask the White House to request the FBI carry out an additional background check. Shortly afterwards, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders released a statement from the president, which read: “I’ve ordered the FBI to conduct a supplemental investigation to update Judge Kavanaugh’s file. As the senate has requested, this update must be limited in scope and completed in less than one week.”

[..] Mr Flake may have been motivated to act by the words of two protesters who confronted him in a senate elevator after it was initially announced he would back Mr Kavanaugh. “What you are doing is allowing someone who actually violated a woman to sit on the Supreme Court. This is not tolerable. You have children in your family. Think about them. I have two children,” shouted one of the women, Ana Maria Archila. “I cannot imagine that for the next 50 years they will have to have someone in the Supreme Court who has been accused of violating a young girl. What are you doing, sir?”

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Plenty angles: … trial by social media…

The Return Of The Inquisition (Simon Black)

Senator Maize Hirono of Hawaii recently stated, “Not only do women like [Kavanaugh’s accuser], who bravely come forward, need to be heard, but they need to be believed.” By definition this is neither fair nor impartial, and turns the entire process into a Kangaroo Court… which is what the Senate has become. At a certain point yesterday, one Senator introduced multiple pieces of evidence on behalf of the accuser, including ‘expert reports’ that justify her inability to remember details from the assault. This is truly bizarre. These Senators are playing the role of judge in this matter. It seems impossible to do this while simultaneously acting as advocate for the accuser.

Another Senator sat smugly and sanctimoniously, leering down at Brett Kavanaugh and demanding explanations about code words for beer and flatulence that date back to Kavanaugh’s high school days. The fact that a United States Senator would actually consider this important evidence is an utter embarrassment. Another disgusting perversion of justice is that the United States Senate actually felt compelled to negotiate with the accuser about when/how she would testify. For example, the accuser wanted to prohibit certain questions, control who could/could not ask questions, determine the order of witness testimony, etc. This is simply NOT how the justice system is supposed to work.

[..] the saddest part – this manner of Inquisition… trial by social media… has now been condoned and advanced by the United States Senate, an institution whose members have ALL taken a solemn oath to support and defend the Constitution which they are now violating in the worst way. Clearly the Senate is no longer an assembly of kings… but a brood of bickering, immature weaklings. (The only resilience displayed has been from the accused and accuser, both of whom have had to endure insane public scrutiny.) There’s obviously an agenda here.

Perhaps some Senators are trying to win points with the #metoo movement for the upcoming elections. Or they’re intentionally blocking Kavanaugh simply because he is a Trump nominee. Whatever their reasons, they may be victorious in achieving their desired outcome. But it will be a Pyrrhic victory… for it will come at the expense of establishing a dangerous new standard that destroys the most important principles of Justice.

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As deficits grow, liquidity is shrinking.

Fiscal Irresponsibility (Roberts)

Without much fanfare or public discussion, Congress has decided to push the U.S. into deeper fiscal responsibility. Earlier this week, the House passed another Continuing Resolution (CR) to keep the government from “shutting down” prior to the mid-term elections. “The House on Wednesday passed an $854 billion spending bill to avert an October shutdown, funding large swaths of the government while pushing the funding deadline for others until Dec. 7. The bill passed by 361-61, a week after the Senate passed an identical measure by a vote of 93-7.” For almost a decade, Congress has failed to pass, and operate, underneath a budget.

Of course, without any repercussions from voters in demanding that Congress “does their job,” the path to fiscal insolvency continues to grow. The Committee For A Responsible Federal Budget made the following statement: “We’re pleased policymakers have likely avoided a shutdown and actually appropriated most of this year’s discretionary budget on time. But let’s not forgot that Congress did so without a budget and had to grease the wheels with $153 billion to pass these bills. That isn’t function; it’s a fiscal free-for-all.” Of course, with trillion-dollar deficits just around the corner, the negative impact from unbridled spending and debt increases will begin to reverse the positive effects from deregulation and tax reform.

The bigger problem with the $854 billion CR just passed by the House, and awaiting the President’s signature, is that it only covers spending from now until December. Such means that by the time we get the full 2019 budget funded, with the annual automatic increases still in place, we will be looking at more than $2 Trillion in annual spending. Such will require further increases in debt issuance at a time when there are potentially fewer buys of Treasuries readily available. As shown in the chart below, with the major Central Banks reducing their balance sheets simultaneously, some of the more major buyers are being removed from the market. “Central bank balance sheets have shrunk by over half-a-trillion dollars since March. This decrease in global liquidity – in the face of a global slowdown – raises the risk of policy mistakes much higher than is commonly assumed.” – ECRI

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Courtesy of your friendly neighborhood central bank.

Junk Bonds Set For Record Winning Streak, High Grade Worst Since 2008 (ZH)

For the latest confirmation of the upside down market, look no further than corporate bonds where the riskiest, CCC-rated junk bonds are set to make a positive return for the 3rd consecutive year, the longest winning streak since records began in 1997. Not only have the lowest quality junk bonds, those rated CCC or lower, generating respectable absolute returns of 5.8% YTD, they have also outperformed higher quality debt with a 1% total return so far this month, according to Bloomberg and ICE data. Additionally, the lowest rated junk bonds have also outperformed the broader junk bond index, which has returned 1.9% YTD.

And while the key contributor to the outperformance of lowest-rated bonds is demand for, well, higher yielding paper as investors continue to chase returns, a key structural issue has been the lack of HY supply, which at $150 billion YTD is the lowest since 2009. Meanwhile, as investors scramble for any paper that promises a material yield, regardless of underlying fundamentals, investment grade corporate bond returns have, in the worlds of Bloomberg’s James Crombie “fallen from darling to deadbeat.”

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Perhaps the biggest risk is that Tesla shares fall and loans have to be rolled over.

Elon Musk Believed He Had Verbal Deal With Saudis To Take Tesla Private (WSJ)

Tesla Inc. CEO Elon Musk believes he had a verbal agreement in place with Saudi Arabia’s sovereign-wealth fund to help finance a plan to take the auto maker private, according to a person familiar with the matter, a contention that could preview how he will fight regulators’ accusation that he misled shareholders. Musk was sued Thursday by the Securities and Exchange Commission, which alleged that he misled investors when he tweeted last month that he had funding secured to lead a Tesla buyout. The agency, which is seeking to oust Musk from Tesla, said in its complaint that he “knew that he had never discussed a going-private transaction at $420 per share with any potential funding source.”

Musk believes the SEC’s effort is flawed in assuming that a written agreement and fixed price were necessary for a deal, the person said. Musk also thinks regulators aren’t taking into account that Middle Eastern businesses routinely operate using verbal agreements in principle, the person said. In addition, Musk has told people that he could have led a go-private transaction using his own stake in SpaceX, if major Tesla investors were on board. SpaceX is the privately held aerospace firm that Mr. Musk controls and is valued at tens of billions of dollars.

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Tory conference soon. Spectacle.

Labour Claims Theresa May’s Government ‘The Most Divided Ever’ (Ind.)

Labour has accused Theresa May of leading “the most divided government ever” as it released a dossier claiming a third of Conservative MPs have publicly criticised either the government or a Tory colleague within the last year. On the eve of the Conservatives’ annual conference, Labour said more than 100 Tory MPs have recently turned their fire on a colleague or on government policy. The report said 80 per cent of the attacks were directed at Ms May or her government, with 83 MPs having criticised one of the two. The dossier was released as a number of senior Conservatives spoke out against Ms May’s leadership and voiced fears about the prospects of the party.

Much of the criticism outlined in the Labour document relates to Ms May’s Chequers plan for Brexit, which has been widely condemned by both Eurosceptics and Remain supporters on the Tory benches. It has been called “unworkable” by Justine Greening, the pro-European former education secretary, while former Brexit minister Steve Baker said it could lead to a “catastrophic split” in the Conservative Party. Mike Penning, previously seen as an ally of Ms May, described the plan as “dead as a dodo”, and former cabinet minister Priti Patel said it would be “a disaster for our country”. Ms May is facing mounting pressure to ditch the proposals, which are also highly unpopular with Tory members and have been rejected by EU leaders.

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EU has already thrown out Chequers.

Boris Johnson’s ‘Super Canada’ Alternative Brexit Plan Rubbished (G.)

Furious ministers rounded on Boris Johnson for suggesting the UK could renege on its Brexit agreements over the Irish border, calling it unworkable and criticising the former foreign secretary for denouncing agreements made while he was a cabinet minister. The Department for Exiting the European Union issued a defiant statement rejecting Johnson’s alternative, laid out in a 4,000-word Telegraph article, saying it was “not a workable or negotiable plan,” less that two days before the start of the Conservative party conference in Birmingham. Government sources mocked Johnson’s disavowal of the December withdrawal agreement, when he had been part of the cabinet that approved it, dismissing his intervention as “another very lengthy article which doesn’t offer any answers”.

Speaking ahead of the conference, May said the government was on the verge of a Brexit deal, despite admitting after the EU summit in Salzburg that the two sides remained some distance apart on customs and the Northern Irish border. “The right deal is close – and with it the opportunity to make life better for ordinary working people,” she said. But Johnson continued his public intervention with a series of television interviews – his first since quitting over Chequers – criticising the prime minister, warning May that she risked betraying the wishes of leave voters if she persisted with the Chequers deal but stopping short of calling her to go. Johnson told the BBC: “If you stick with Chequers, the electorate of this country will look at what we have produced and think how on Earth was that the outcome of voting leave.”

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If people want a second vote, isn’t that democratic?

Democratizing Brexit (Varoufakis)

As deadlines approach and red lines are redrawn in the United Kingdom’s impending withdrawal from the European Union, it is imperative for the people of Britain to regain democratic control over a process that is opaque and ludicrously irrational. The question is: How? Democracy can never aspire to being more than a work in progress. Decisions made collectively must constantly be reappraised collectively in the light of new evidence. Yet, in the UK’s current circumstances, nothing would be more poisonous to democracy than revisiting Brexit by means of a second referendum.

Both sides, Leavers and Remainers, feel betrayed. Even though Brexit was meant to restore its sovereignty, Parliament has no real say in a process that will mark Britain for decades to come. The Scots and the people of Northern Ireland are hostages to a distinctly English feud that could do them serious damage. The young feel the old have hijacked their future, while the old feel that their accumulated wisdom and legitimate concerns are being ignored by insiders striking bad deals behind closed doors on behalf of vested interests. In short, British democracy is failing its latest and most stringent test.

But a fresh referendum cannot be the answer to the unfolding disaster triggered by the original referendum. In June 2016, a stark choice was available to the people of Britain: leave the EU or stay in. While one can question the wisdom of making such a collective choice via a referendum, the logical coherence of the enterprise was beyond dispute. Once the verdict came in, and the process stipulated by the Treaty of Lisbon’s Article 50 was triggered, no binary yes-or-no choice to steer Britain out of its mess became available. In fact, there are now at least five options that must be collectively appraised.

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Oh, yeah, that has them worried. They want their friends spying on you, and nobody else.

Facebook Says Nearly 50m Users Compromised In Huge Security Breach (G.)

Nearly 50m Facebook accounts were compromised by an attack that gave hackers the ability to take over users’ accounts, Facebook revealed on Friday. The breach was discovered by Facebook engineers on Tuesday 25 September, the company said, and patched on Thursday. Users whose accounts were affected will be notified by Facebook. Those users will be logged out of their accounts and required to log back in. “I’m glad we found this and fixed the vulnerability,” Mark Zuckerberg said on a conference call with reporters on Friday morning. “But it definitely is an issue that this happened in the first place. I think this underscores the attacks that our community and our services face.”

The security breach is believed to be the largest in Facebook’s history and is particularly severe because the attackers stole “access tokens”, a kind of security key that allows users to stay logged into Facebook over multiple browsing sessions without entering their password every time. Possessing a token allows an attacker to take full control of the victim’s account, including logging into third-party applications that use Facebook Login. The security breach comes at a time of significant strife for the social media company, which has faced mounting criticism over issues including foreign election interference, the flow of misinformation, hate speech, and data privacy.

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I kid you not: there will be many voices labeling this as ‘opportunity’.

Melting Arctic Ice Opens New Route From Europe To East Asia (AP)

A Danish-flagged cargo ship has successfully passed through the Russian Arctic, in a trial voyage showing that melting sea ice could potentially open a new trade route from Europe to east Asia. The Venta Maersk made the journey as a one-off trial, said Palle Laursen, the chief technical officer of A.P. Moller-Maersk, the world’s biggest shipping group. The ship, carrying a cargo of frozen fish, arrived in St Petersburg on Friday, after leaving Russia’s Pacific port city of Vladivostok on 22 August. “The trial allowed us to gain exceptional operational experience,” said Laursen, adding the ship had performed well in the unfamiliar environment.

The Northern Sea route could be a shorter journey for ships travelling from east Asia to Europe than the Northwest Passage over Canada because it will likely be free of ice sooner due to climate change. Experts say it could reduce the travel distance from east Asia to Europe from the 21,000 kilometres (13,000 miles) it takes to go via the Suez Canal, to 12,800 kilometres (8,000 miles). This would cut transit time by 10 to 15 days. It’s not the first time a cargo vessel has completed the Russian Arctic route, and Maersk underlined that the journey was “to gain operational experience in a new area and to test vessel systems”. “Currently, we do not see the Northern Sea route as a viable commercial alternative to existing east-west routes,” Laursen said.

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Sep 212018
 
 September 21, 2018  Posted by at 1:35 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


M. C. Escher The Tower of Babel 1928

 

Two thirds of Americans get at least some of their news on social media. Google and Facebook receive well over 70% of US digital advertising revenues. The average daily time spent on social media is 2 hours. Just a few factoids that have at least one thing in common: nothing like them was around 10 years ago, let alone 20. And they depict a change, or set of changes, in our world that will take a long time yet to understand and absorb. Some things just move too fast for us to keep track of, let alone process.

Those of us who were alive before the meteoric rise of the hardware and software of ‘social’ media may be able to relate a little more and better than those who were not, but even that is not a given. There are plenty people over 20, over 30, that make one think: what did you do before you had that magic machine? When you walk down the street talking to some friend, or looking at what your friends wrote on Facebook, do you ever think about what you did in such situations before the machine came into your life?

 


From 10% to 75% in 10 years

 

We’re not going to know what the hardware and software of ‘social’ media will have done to our lives, individually and socially, for a very long time. But in the meantime, their influence will continue to shape our lives. They change our societies, the way we interact with each other, in very profound ways; we just don’t know how profound, or how, period. There can be little question that they change us as individuals too; they change how we communicate, and in such a way that there is no way they don’t also change our very brain structures in the process.

Someone who walks down a street talking to someone else 10, 100, 1000 miles away, or sees messages from such a person come in in virtual real time, experiences things that were not available ever in human history. Our brains must adapt to these changes, or we will be left behind. And while for the over-20, over-30 crowd this takes actual adaptation, for those younger than that it comes quasi pre-cooked: they’ve never known anything else. Still, their brains were formed in completely different times too. Think hunter-gatherers. And that’s just the human part of the brain.

There are too many aspects to this development to cover here. One day someone will write a book, or rather, many someones will write many books, and they will all be different. Some will focus on people’s lives being saved because their smartphones allow them to either receive or send out distress signals. Others will tell stories of teenagers committing suicide after being heckled on ‘social’ media. With yin comes yang. Millions feel better with new-found ‘friends’, and millions suffer from abuse even if they don’t kill themselves.

 

With new media, especially when it goes from 1 to 100 in no time flat, it should be no surprise that the news it delivers changes too. We went from a few dozen TV- and radio stations and newspapers to a few hundred million potential opinions in the US alone. The media are no longer a one-way street. The first effect that has had is that the chasm between news and opinion has narrowed spectacularly. If their readers post their views of what they read and see, journalists feel they have the right to vent their opinions too.

And then these opinions increasingly replace the news itself. The medium is again the message, in a way, a novel kind of way. A hundred million people write things without being restricted by due diligence or other journalistic standards, and we see journalists do that too. They will come up with lies, half-truths, innuendo, false accusations, and moreover will not retract or correct them, except when really hard-pressed. After all, who has the time when you post a hundred+ tweets a day and need to update your Facebook pages too?

Obviously, Donald Trump is an excellent example of the changing media environment. His use of Twitter was a major factor in his election victory. And then his detractors took to Twitter to launch a huge campaign accusing him of collusion with Russia to achieve that victory. They did this moving in lockstep with Bob Mueller’s investigation of that collusion accusation. But almost two years after the election, neither Mueller not the media have provided any evidence of collusion.

That, ironically, is the only thing that is actually true about the entire narrative at this point. Sure, Mueller may still have something left in his back pocket, but if he had solid proof he would have been obliged to present it. Collusion with a foreign government is too serious not to reveal evidence of. Therefore, it’s safe to conclude that in September 2018, Mueller has no such evidence. But what about the thousands of printed articles and the millions of Tweets and Facebook posts claiming collusion that were presented as true?

Funny you asked. What they prove is not collusion, but the changing media landscape. The anti-Trump echo-chamber that I’ve written about many times has been going strong for two years and shows no signs of abating. There are still lots of people posting a hundred (re-)tweets etc. daily who are being read by many others, all of them confirming their biases in a never fulfilled feeding frenzy.

This is not about Trump. And I’m not a Trump supporter. This is instead about the media, and the humongous difference interactivity has made. And about the fact that it hasn’t just added a hundred million voices, it has also altered the way traditional media report the news, in an effort to keep up with those hundred million.

 

The thing here that is about Trump, is that he’s everybody’s favorite meal ticket. He confirms everyone’s opinion, whether for or against him, by the way he uses media. And most importantly, they all make a lot of money off of him. The New York Times and WaPo and MSNBC would be in deep financial trouble without Trump. Like they were before he came along. Polarization of opinions saved them. Well, not the WaPo, Jeff Bezos can afford to run 1000 papers like that and lose money hand over fist. But for the NYT and many others a Trump impeachment would be disastrous. Funny, right?

Another thing that is obvious is that one thing still sells above all others: sex. The smear campaign against Julian Assange has been successful in one way only, and it’s been a smash hit: the rape allegations. Completely false, entirely made up, dragged out as long as possible, and turning millions, especially women, against him.

The accusations against Supreme Court candidate Brett Kavanaugh haven’t been around long enough to be discredited. Maybe they will be, maybe they won’t. But read through newspaper articles, watch TV shows, follow Twitter, and you see countless voices already convinced ‘he did it’. And that ‘it’ is often labeled ‘rape’, though that’s not the accusation.

But it’s part of the Anti-Trump train, and the echo-chamber has gone into overdrive once again. Even if everyone understands that a 36-year old accusation must be handled with care. The accusing woman’s lawyer says the FBI must investigate, and everyone says: FBI! FBI!. Conveniently forgetting that the FBI has been far from impartial with regards to Trump, and the White House is not exactly waiting for another FBI role.

What’s wrong with waiting till you know the facts? Why judge a situation you know nothing about other than a woman accuses a man of assault 36 years ago, and doesn’t remember time, location etc.?

 

And that’s the thing all along, isn’t it? That people, both readers and journalists, all 200 million Americans of them, think they have acquired the right to judge any person, any situation they read a few lines about, just because they have purchased a smartphone. A faulty notion fed on a daily basis by the fact there are millions who think just like them.

We may want to rethink the terms ‘social’ media and ‘smart’ phone. They sound good, but they don’t cover the true nature of either. It’s hard to say where all this is going, but the sharply increasing polarization of society is certainly not a good sign. People feeling they have the right to accuse others without knowing facts, people building a Russiagate narrative without evidence, these are not things a society should welcome, whether they’re profitable or not.

Meanwhile, there are two people (there are many more, of course) who were banned from the platforms so many others use to draw baseless conclusions and spout empty accusations. And we miss them both, or we should: Alex Jones and Julian Assange. Have they really used ‘social’ media in worse ways than those 200 million Americans? Or were they banned because millions of Americans were following and reading their non-mainstream views?

We better get a grip on this, and on ourselves, or we won’t get another chance. What we have seen so far is that it’s not that hard to shape people’s opinions in a world with information overload. And that process is about to get a whole lot more intense. Until all you’re left with is the illusion that your opinion is actually your own.

 

 

Sep 202018
 
 September 20, 2018  Posted by at 9:02 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  


M. C. Escher Still life and street 1937

 

FBI, DOJ To Defy Trump Declassification Order (ZH)
Louisiana AG Jeff Landry Wants To Break Up Social Media Giants (Advocate)
Amazon Hit By EU Antitrust Probe (CNBC)
Facebook Building A ‘War Room’ To Battle Election Meddling (AFP)
Leave No Dark Corner: China Is Building A Digital Dictatorship (ABC.au)
Steve Keen Says U.S. Heading for 2020 Recession (BBG)
Digging into Wealth and Income Inequality (CHS)
Theresa May Tells EU27 She Won’t Delay Brexit Despite Lack Of A Deal (G.)
‘Seven In 10’ EU Workers In UK Would Be Barred Under Brexit Proposals (G.)
The Forgotten History of the Financial Crisis (Tooze)
Turkish Treasury Borrows $347 Million At 25% Interest Rate (Hu.)
US Officials Face Growing Pressure Over Dicamba Herbicide Use (AFP)

 

 

We’re getting real close to core constitutional issues now.

FBI, DOJ To Defy Trump Declassification Order (ZH)

Despite President Trump’s Monday order for the “immediate declassification” of sensitive materials related to the Russia investigation, “without redaction,” the agencies involved are planning to do so anyway, according to Bloomberg, citing three people familiar with the matter. “The Justice Department, FBI and Office of the Director of National Intelligence are going through a methodical review and can’t offer a timeline for finishing, said the people, who weren’t authorized to speak publicly about the sensitive matter.” -Bloomberg. Trump ordered the DOJ to release the text messages of former FBI Director James Comey, his deputy Andrew McCabe, now-fired special agent Peter Strzok, former FBI attorney Lisa Page and twice-demoted DOJ official Bruce Ohr.

Also ordered released are specific pages from the FBI’s FISA surveillance warrant application on former Trump campaign aide Carter Page, as well as interviews with Ohr. The DOJ and the FBI are expected to submit proposed redactions to the Office of the Director of National Intelligence – which will prepare a package for Trump to sign off on. “When the president issues such an order, it triggers a declassification review process that is conducted by various agencies within the intelligence community, in conjunction with the White House counsel, to seek to ensure the safety of America’s national security interests,” a Justice Department spokesman said in a statement. “The department and the Federal Bureau of Investigation are already working with the Director of National Intelligence to comply with the president’s order.”

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Ahead of a meeting with Jeff Sessions.

Louisiana AG Jeff Landry Wants To Break Up Social Media Giants (Advocate)

Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry would like to see Google, Facebook and other major social media behemoths broken up like the federal government did to Standard Oil more than a century ago. Landry says the internet giants are suppressing conservative agendas, stifling competition, and infringing on antitrust laws. “This can’t be fixed legislatively,” Landry told The Advocate Tuesday. “We need to go to court with an antitrust suit.” Landry – or Chief Deputy Attorney General Bill Stiles – will go to Washington, D.C. next week to push that solution to U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Sessions, who is considering an investigation against the social media companies, set a Sept. 25 meeting with about a half dozen Republican state attorney generals.

[..] “The U.S. Department of Justice weighing in absolutely gives us an edge … their participation accelerates the timeline,” Landry said. The federal lawyers have the funding, experience and expertise that states can’t match when handling such complex litigation. “I thought it would be years to get this going,” Landry said. “This moves up the timeline.” He is against the idea, at first blush, of letting the companies settle for some huge sum and promises to behave better in the future – a frequent outcome of anti-trust lawsuits, Landry said. “I’m not prepared to say what the exact remedy would look like,” Landry said. But his gut feel is “that breaking up the monopoly is a good idea.”

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“Vestager has the power to fine companies up to 10 percent of their global turnover..”

Amazon Hit By EU Antitrust Probe (CNBC)

The EU regulators behind a $5 billion fine against Google are turning their attentions to Amazon. European Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager has begun questioning merchants on Amazon’s use of their data, Vestager said Wednesday. The issue, she said, is whether Amazon is using data from the merchants it hosts on its site to secure an advantage in selling products against those same retailers. “These are very early days and we haven’t formally opened a case. We are trying to make sure that we get the full picture,” Vestager said during a news conference Wednesday.

The probe comes as the world’s largest online retailer faces growing calls for regulation. Investors and insiders have long cited Amazon’s size and reach as reason to break the company up. President Donald Trump has hinted at antitrust action against Amazon as part of continued attacks against CEO Jeff Bezos, who also owns The Washington Post. U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions was set to meet this month with state officials to discuss antitrust concerns in Silicon Valley, though much of the regulation on Big Tech thus far has come out of Brussels. Vestager has the power to fine companies up to 10 percent of their global turnover for breaching EU antitrust rules. Earlier this year, she levied a record $5 billion fine against Google related to its Android business.

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You mean, by the FBI and CIA?

Facebook Building A ‘War Room’ To Battle Election Meddling (AFP)

Facebook on Wednesday said it will have a “war room” up and running on its Silicon Valley campus to quickly repel efforts to use the social network to meddle in upcoming elections. “We are setting up a war room in Menlo Park for the Brazil and US elections,” Facebook elections and civic engagement director Samidh Chakrabarti said during a conference call. “It is going to serve as a command center so we can make real-time decisions as needed.” He declined to say when the “war room” — currently a conference room with a paper sign taped to the door — would be in operation.

Teams at Facebook have been honing responses to potential scenarios such as floods of bogus news or campaigns to trick people into falsely thinking they can cast ballots by text message, according to executives. “Preventing election interference on Facebook has been one of the biggest cross-team efforts the company has seen,” Chakrabarti said. The conference call was the latest briefing by Facebook regarding efforts to prevent the kinds of voter manipulation or outright deception that took place ahead of the 2016 election the brought US President Donald Trump to office.

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What social media tech can lead to. If they do it in China, what would keep them from doing it here?

Leave No Dark Corner: China Is Building A Digital Dictatorship (ABC.au)

What may sound like a dystopian vision of the future is already happening in China. And it’s making and breaking lives. The Communist Party calls it “social credit” and says it will be fully operational by 2020. Within years, an official Party outline claims, it will “allow the trustworthy to roam freely under heaven while making it hard for the discredited to take a single step”. Social credit is like a personal scorecard for each of China’s 1.4 billion citizens. In one pilot program already in place, each citizen has been assigned a score out of 800. In other programs it’s 900. Those, like Dandan, with top “citizen scores” get VIP treatment at hotels and airports, cheap loans and a fast track to the best universities and jobs.

Those at the bottom can be locked out of society and banned from travel, or barred from getting credit or government jobs. The system will be enforced by the latest in high-tech surveillance systems as China pushes to become the world leader in artificial intelligence. Surveillance cameras will be equipped with facial recognition, body scanning and geo-tracking to cast a constant gaze over every citizen. Smartphone apps will also be used to collect data and monitor online behaviour on a day-to-day basis. Then, big data from more traditional sources like government records, including educational and medical, state security assessments and financial records, will be fed into individual scores.

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The link doesn’t go to an article about the interview, but it’s what Bloomberg provided on Twitter.

Steve Keen Says U.S. Heading for 2020 Recession (BBG)

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Inequality CAN bring down societies.

Digging into Wealth and Income Inequality (CHS)

The assets of U.S. households recently topped $100 trillion, yet another sign that everything is going swimmingly in the U.S. economy. Let’s take a look at the Federal Reserve’s Household Balance Sheet, which lists the assets and liabilities of all U.S. households in very big buckets (real estate: $25 trillion). (For reasons unknown, the Fed lumps non-profit assets and liabilities with households, but these modest sums are easily subtracted.) If we look at the numbers with a reasonably skeptical view, we start wondering about aspects that might have previously been taken as “facts” that were above questioning. For example, households hold $11.6 trillion in cash (deposits). That’s unambiguous.

So is the $29.3 trillion in stocks (owned directly and indirectly, i.e. retirement funds, etc.). But what about the $16 trillion in “other financial assets”? This isn’t cash, stocks, bonds, retirement funds or noncorporate businesses–then what is it? Offshore banking? That $16 trillion is equal to all homeowners’ equity (real estate minus mortgages). It’s a non-trivial chunk of the $100 trillion in net assets everyone is crowing about. I also wonder about the valuation of noncorporate businesses–small family businesses, LLCs, sole proprietorships, etc.– $11.9 trillion. How do you value a business that’s hanging on by a thread? Or one that’s a tax shelter?

We know from other sources that roughly 85% of all this wealth is held by the top 10% of households. This isn’t included in this balance sheet, but without those statistics, these numbers lack critical context: if household wealth is soaring, that sounds wonderful. But what if 95% the gains are flowing to the top 5%, and within the top 5%, mostly to the top .1%?

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Like she’s in a position to issue ultimatums.

Theresa May Tells EU27 She Won’t Delay Brexit Despite Lack Of A Deal (G.)

Theresa May has tried to threaten EU leaders over dinner at a special summit in Salzburg by telling them the UK would not seek to delay Brexit, prompting European leaders to warn that the two sides remained far apart on trade and the Irish border despite months of negotiations. The prime minister told her counterparts “that the UK will leave on 29 March next year” and as a result “the onus is now on all of us to get this deal done” by the end of an emergency summit that the EU confirmed would happen in mid-November. It was the first time since Chequers that May has had a chance to address the EU’s other 27 heads of government instead of going through their chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, with No 10 hoping that it would inject some urgency into the divorce talks.

“We all recognise that time is short but extending or delaying these negotiations is not an option,” she said. But as the summit started Jean-Claude Juncker, the president of the European commission, said that a deal remained “far away” while Donald Tusk, the president of the European council, warned that the UK’s proposals for the Irish border and future trade relations with the EU needed to be “reworked and further negotiated”. Tusk added that “various scenarios are still possible” – a clear hint that no deal was still a possibility. Despite the EU leaders’ statements, No 10 is hoping that May’s pitch to EU leaders will eventually prompt some greater flexibility on the part of Brussels in the critical period for the Brexit negotiations between a scheduled European council meeting in October and the decisive summit in November.

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No berries for you next summer.

‘Seven In 10’ EU Workers In UK Would Be Barred Under Brexit Proposals (G.)

The majority of EU workers in the UK would not be eligible to work in the country following Brexit if they were subject to proposals put forward by the government’s chief migration advisers, analysis by a leading leftwing thinktank shows. EU citizens currently in the UK are expected to be protected under the terms of the UK-EU withdrawal agreement but findings by the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) illustrate how proposals by the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) will potentially restrict businesses recruiting migrants from the EU in future.

In its report on EU migration after Brexit, published on Tuesday, the committee recommended lifting the cap on highly skilled workers applying to take up jobs in the UK but also backed maintaining the salary threshold of £30,000. The committee also recommended only allowing in individuals at level three or above on the nine-level regulated qualifications framework (RQF). Comparing this criteria to data from the labour force survey, the IPPR estimates that around 75% of the UK’s current EU workforce would not be eligible were they subject to the proposals. The findings will likely enflame concerns from business leaders over proposals they have already branded “ignorant and elitist”.

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Long overview by Adam Tooze.

The Forgotten History of the Financial Crisis (Tooze)

Although more banks failed during the Depression, these failures were scattered between 1929 and 1933 and involved far smaller balance sheets. In 2008, both the scale and the speed of the implosion were breathtaking. According to data from the Bank for International Settlements, gross capital flows around the world plunged by 90 percent between 2007 and 2008. As capital flows dried up, the crisis soon morphed into a crushing recession in the real economy. The “great trade collapse” of 2008 was the most severe synchronized contraction in international trade ever recorded.

Within nine months of their pre-crisis peak, in April 2008, global exports were down by 22 percent. (During the Great Depression, it took nearly two years for trade to slump by a similar amount.) In the United States between late 2008 and early 2009, 800,000 people were losing their jobs every month. By 2015, over nine million American families would lose their homes to foreclosure—the largest forced population movement in the United States since the Dust Bowl. In Europe, meanwhile, failing banks and fragile public finances created a crisis that nearly split the eurozone.

[..] bankers on both sides of the Atlantic created the system that imploded in 2008. The collapse could easily have devastated both the U.S. and the European economies had it not been for improvisation on the part of U.S. officials at the Federal Reserve, who leveraged trans-atlantic connections they had inherited from the twentieth century to stop the global bank run. That this reality has been obscured speaks both to the contentious politics of managing global finances and to the growing distance between the United States and Europe. More important, it forces a question about the future of financial globalization: How will a multipolar world that has moved beyond the transatlantic structures of the last century cope with the next crisis?

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Wow.

Turkish Treasury Borrows $347 Million At 25% Interest Rate (Hu.)

The Turkish Treasury borrowed some 2.2 billion Turkish liras (around $347 million) from domestic markets, the Treasury and Finance Ministry announced on Sept. 18. The auction was held for 12-month zero coupon bonds – new issuance – to be settled on Sept. 19 and mature on Sept. 18, 2019, according to an official statement. The average annual simple and compound interest rates of the 364-day bonds were 25.05 percent, the ministry added. According to the domestic borrowing strategy, the ministry has projected 21.9 billion liras (around $3.4 billion) of borrowing from the market through auctions in the September-November period. Sept. 18’s auction was second out of a total 11 planned auctions on the ministry’s issuance calendar for the three-month period.

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“Controversial pesticide pits farmer vs farmer in US.” Can we perhaps just stop using poison to produce food?

US Officials Face Growing Pressure Over Dicamba Herbicide Use (AFP)

US environmental regulators are under increasing pressure over a controversial pesticide known for laying waste to nearby crops as well as the harmful weeds it is meant to control. Critics worried about the harm are calling for increased restrictions, following the example of many states, while producers and some farmers want fewer obstacles to use of a chemical they view as one of their last options. Much like Roundup, another much-criticized herbicide marketed by Monsanto, dicamba has been on the market a long time. But use of the chemical has jumped since Monsanto – which was bought by Germany’s Bayer in June – introduced seeds that can resist the weed-killer.

Dicamba has been a boon for farmers at a time when they have seen other leading herbicides lose their effectiveness and the battle against damaging weeds. Use of seeds resistant to dicamba doubled over the last year, reaching 20 million hectares (50 million acres) this summer. But the product has been blamed for polluting around four percent of US soybean fields in 2017. A common complaint is that the herbicide is volatile, meaning it spreads to nearby areas. It is only meant for use during the growing season for plants resistant to the chemical, and the US Environmental Protection Agency last year received reports of “significant crop damage from off-field movement of dicamba.” The EPA authorized use of the weed-killer for two years, through November, so it will soon need to announce any changes to the rules on when and how it can be used.

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Sep 122018
 
 September 12, 2018  Posted by at 1:17 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


Winslow Homer Salt Kettle, Bermuda 1899

 

In the wake of a number of the Lehman and 9/11 commemorations in America, and as a monster storm is once again threatening to cause outsize damage, we find ourselves at a pivotal point in time, which will decide how the country interacts with its own laws, its legal system, its Constitution, its freedom of speech, and indeed if it has sufficient willpower left to adhere to the Constitution as its no. 1 guiding principle.

The main problem is that it all seems to slip slide straight by the people, who are -kept- busy with completely different issues. That is convenient for those who would like less focus on the Constitution, but it’s also very dangerous for everyone else. Americans should today stand up for freedom of speech, or it will be gone, likely forever.

The way it works is that president Trump is portrayed as the major threat to ‘the rule of law’, which allows other people, as well as companies and organizations, to drop below the radar and devise and work on plans and schemes that threaten the country itself, and its future as a nation ruled by its laws.

Bob Woodward’s book “Fear: Trump in the White House” and the anonymous op-ed published in the NYT a day later serve as a good reminder of these dynamics. If you succeed in confirming people’s idea that Trump is such an unhinged idiot that an unelected cabal inside the White House is needed to save the nation from the president it elected, you’re well on your way.

Well on your way to separate the country from its own laws, that is. Not on your way to saving it. You can’t save America by suspending its Constitution just because that suits your particular political goals or points of view.

 

Late last night, Michael Tracey wrote on Twitter: “Trump’s preference to pull out of Afghanistan is depicted in the Woodward book as yet another crazy impulse that the “adults in the room” successfully rein in.” “We’re going to save you from yourselves, thank us later!” Nobody voted for those adults in the room anymore than anyone voted for the Afghanistan ‘war’ to enter year 17.

Meanwhile Infowars said: “Several people within Trump’s inner circle know the threat to the mid-terms and his re-election chances that social media censorship poses, including Donald Trump Jr. and Brad Parscale, his 2020 campaign manager. However, older members of the administration are completely unaware of the fact that banning prominent online voices and manipulating algorithms can shift millions of votes and are oblivious to the danger. This ignorance has placed a temporary block on Trump taking action, despite the president repeatedly referring to Big Tech censorship in tweets and speeches over the last few weeks.”

Yes, Infowars, I know, everybody loves to hate Alex Jones. And perhaps for good reasons, at least at times. But does that mean he can be banned from a whole slew of internet platforms without this having been run by and through the US court system? Without even one judge having examined the ‘evidence’, if it even existed, that leads to such banning, blocking and shadowbanning?

Alex Jones is an ‘easy example’ because he’s so popular. Which is also, undoubtedly, why all the social media platforms ban him so easily, and all at the same time. ‘He’s a terrible person’, say so many of their readers. But that’s not good enough, far from it. Twitter and Facebook should never be allowed to ban anyone, using opaque ‘Community Standards’ or ‘Terms and Conditions’ interpreted by kids fresh out of high school.

These platforms have important societal functions. They are for instance the new conduits governments, police, armies use to warn people in case of emergencies and disasters. You can’t ban people from those conduits just because a bunch of geeks don’t like what they say. If you can at all, it will have to be done through the legal system.

That this is not done at present poses an immense threat to that legal system, and to the Constitution itself. But Americans, and indeed Congressmen and Senators, have been trained in a Pavlovian way to believe that it’s not Google and Facebook who threaten the Constitution, but that it’s Trump and his crew.

 

Meanwhile, Trump is being put through Bob Mueller’s Special Counsel legal wringer 24/7, while Alphabet, Jack Dorsey and Mark Zuckerberg escape any such scrutiny at all. That discrepancy, too, is eating away at the foundations of American law.

And like it or not, Trump had it right when he said “You look at Google, Facebook, Twitter and other social media giants and I made it clear that we as a country cannot tolerate political censorship, blacklisting and rigged search results..”

America as a country cannot tolerate a few rich companies deciding whose voice can be heard, and whose will be silenced. It is entirely unacceptable. That goes for voices Trump doesn’t want to hear as much as it does for whoever Silicon Valley doesn’t. That’s why neither should be in charge of making such decisions. It kills the Constitution.

None of the above means that everyone should be free to post terrorist sympathies or hate speech on social media platforms. But it does mean that legislative and judicial systems must define what these things mean, that this not be left up to arbitrary ‘Community Standards’ interpreted by legally inept Silicon Valley interns, nor should it be left to secret algorithms to decide what news you see and what not.

America itself hangs in the balance, and so do many other western countries. What exactly is the difference between China’s overt internet censorship and America’s hidden one? That is what needs to be defined, and that can only be done by the legal system, by Congress, by the courts, by judges and juries.

And it’s not something that has to be invented from scratch, it can and must be tested against the Constitution. That is the only way forward. That social media have taken over the country by storm, and nary a soul has any idea what that means, can never be an excuse to leave banning and silencing voices over to private parties, whoever they are.

 

It’s not a unique American problem. In Europe there are all sorts of attempts to ban ‘hate speech’, but there are very few proposals concerning who will define what that is. And since Europe has no Constitution, but instead has 27 different versions of one, it will be harder there. Then again, it will also be easier to get away with all sorts of arbitrary bannings etc.

Hungary will be inclined to ban totally different voices than for instance Denmark and so on. And nobody over there has given any sign of understanding how dangerous that is. Banning ‘hate speech’ doesn’t mean anything if the term hasn’t been properly defined. But that also allows for banning voices someone simply doesn’t like. To prevent that from happening, we have legal systems.

It’s essential, it’s elementary, Watson. But it’s slipping through our fingers because our politicians are either incapable of, or unwilling to, comprehending the consequences. Why stick out your neck when nobody else does? It’s like the anti-thesis of what politics means: stay safe.

So the social media’s industry’s own lobbying has a good shot at getting its way: they tell Washington to let them regulate themselves, and everything will be spic and dandy. That would be the final nail in the Constitution’s coffin, and it’s much closer than you think. Do be wary of that.

 

In the end it comes down to two things i’ve said before. First, there is no-one who’s been as ferociously banned and worse the way Julian Assange has. His ban goes way beyond Silicon Valley, but it does paint a shrill portrait of how far the US, CIA, FBI, is willing to go, and to step beyond the Constitution, to get to someone they really don’t like.

But has Assange ever violated and US law, let alone its Constitution? Not that we know of. Mike Pompeo has called WikiLeaks a ‘hostile intelligence service’, and the DOJ has said the 1st Amendment, and thereby of necessity the entire US Constitution, doesn’t apply to Assange because he’s not an American, but both those things are devoid of any meaning, at least in a court of law.

Bob Woodward has an idea of what Assange faces, and he’d do much better to focus on helping him than trying to put Trump down through anonymous sources. And that also leads me to why I, personally, have at least some sympathy for Alex Jones, other than because he’s being attacked unconstitutionally: Jones ran/runs a petition for Trump to free Julian Assange.

Come to think of it: it’s when that petition started taking off that Jones’s ‘real trouble’ started. Given how closely interwoven Silicon Valley and the FBI and CIA have already become, I’m not going to feign any surprise at that.

And before you feel any wishes and desires coming up to impeach Trump, do realize that he may be the only person standing between you and a complete takeover of America by the FBI/NSA/CIA/DNC and Google/Facebook/Twitter, which will be accompanied by the ritual burial of the Constitution.

Think Trump is scary? Take a step back and survey the territory.

 

 

 

 

Sep 062018
 
 September 6, 2018  Posted by at 9:22 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Vincent van Gogh Night Cafe (Place Lamartine in Arles) 1888

 

I Am Part of the Resistance Inside the Trump Administration (NYT)
Who Wrote The Anti-Trump Op-Ed? (MW)
Trump May Declassify the 20 FISA Docs Congress Wants (Sara Carter)
Trump Accuses Social Media Firms Of Interfering In 2016, 2018 Elections (CNBC)
Jack Dorsey Tops Sheryl Sandberg As Tech’s DC Rep (R.)
Sheryl Sandberg Misled Congress About Facebook’s Conscience (IC)
Only 17% Expect A Good Brexit Deal For Britain, Just 40% Back Leave (ES)
Chequers Plan Is Dead,’ Says MP, Who Reported Rejection By Barnier (G.)
Kim Jong Un Wants To Denuclearize During Trump’s First Term (R.)
BOJ Board Member Urges More Stimulus, ‘No Room For Complacency’ (R.)
Huge Surplus Draws Germany Back Into Trump’s Trade War Line Of Fire (R.)
Here’s Another Headache For Beaten-Up Auto Stocks (MW)
Tunisian Fishermen Await Trial In Italy After ‘Saving 100s Of Migrants’ (G.)
The Impossible Photo (Craig Murray)

 

 

Whatever it is, it has nothing to do with democracy. Trump was elected, not some faceless group around him.

I Am Part of the Resistance Inside the Trump Administration (NYT)

President Trump is facing a test to his presidency unlike any faced by a modern American leader. It’s not just that the special counsel looms large. Or that the country is bitterly divided over Mr. Trump’s leadership. Or even that his party might well lose the House to an opposition hellbent on his downfall. The dilemma — which he does not fully grasp — is that many of the senior officials in his own administration are working diligently from within to frustrate parts of his agenda and his worst inclinations. I would know. I am one of them. To be clear, ours is not the popular “resistance” of the left. We want the administration to succeed and think that many of its policies have already made America safer and more prosperous.

But we believe our first duty is to this country, and the president continues to act in a manner that is detrimental to the health of our republic. That is why many Trump appointees have vowed to do what we can to preserve our democratic institutions while thwarting Mr. Trump’s more misguided impulses until he is out of office. The root of the problem is the president’s amorality. Anyone who works with him knows he is not moored to any discernible first principles that guide his decision making. Although he was elected as a Republican, the president shows little affinity for ideals long espoused by conservatives: free minds, free markets and free people.

At best, he has invoked these ideals in scripted settings. At worst, he has attacked them outright. In addition to his mass-marketing of the notion that the press is the “enemy of the people,” President Trump’s impulses are generally anti-trade and anti-democratic. Don’t get me wrong. There are bright spots that the near-ceaseless negative coverage of the administration fails to capture: effective deregulation, historic tax reform, a more robust military and more. But these successes have come despite — not because of — the president’s leadership style, which is impetuous, adversarial, petty and ineffective.

Read more …

“Our job is to publish op-eds that further the public’s understanding of what the hell is going on, and I think this piece makes a significant contribution.”
Jim Bennett, New York Times editorial page editor

Who Wrote The Anti-Trump Op-Ed? (MW)

So who wrote it? From newsrooms to coffee-house chatter to the White House itself, that was the big question on everyone’s mind Wednesday night after the New York Times published an anonymous, bombshell anti-Trump op-ed written by a “senior administration official.” The article, which described an “amoral” and “reckless” President Donald Trump being covertly held in check by the “adults in the room” to preserve the country’s democratic principles, sent Trump into a rage, the Washington Post reported. Trump said the author was gutless, and tweeted “TREASON?” White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said the author was “pathetic” and should resign. But the author remained a mystery.

The White House was in “total meltdown” Wednesday night, a source told Politico. “It’s like the horror movies when everyone realizes the call is coming from inside the house,” another source told the Post. Some criticized the Times for running an anonymous opinion piece, but editorial page editor Jim Bennett told Vanity Fair that the newspaper had a responsibility to run it. “The question for us was, does making this unusual grant, is it merited by the significance of the piece? We feel that it was,” Bennett said. So who was it? That’s the million-dollar question. Literally, since the author could very well receive a book deal once his or her identity is revealed.

The Times, at least, isn’t telling. In an interview with CNN’s Brian Stelter, Times op-ed editor Jim Dao said the official reached out through an intermediary several days ago. He said the Times did speak to the author directly. “We were simply trying to abide by the standard that the Times in general would use when referring to someone who’s not named,” Dao told CNN. Only a “very small number of people within the Times who know this person’s identity,” Dao said, and the Times used “special precautions” to protect their identity.

Read more …

As I said in The Shape of Trump to Come, declassifying is the way to go. But some will resist it, for sure.

Trump May Declassify the 20 FISA Docs Congress Wants (Sara Carter)

President Trump is expected to declassify the redacted 20 pages of documents from the controversial Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) warrant that have still not been made public, which allowed the FBI to spy on short-term campaign volunteer Carter Page, numerous sources told SaraACarter.com. This comes after nearly a year of stonewalling by the Department of Justice at the demand of lawmakers, who claim that the 20 redacted pages will reveal explosive information about the FBI’s handling of the Trump-Russia investigation, according to sources.

However, President Trump, who has been under pressure from some DOJ officials not to release the classified documents, “could always change his mind and it’s not a guarantee that it will happen, but the indications are that it more than likely will possibly be before the end of this week,” said a U.S. official, who spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitive nature of the subject.

In July, the Justice Department released over 400 previously top-secret documents connected to the Page warrant. However, more than 20 pages of the FISA document remained highly classified and have only been viewed by a select group of Congressional members and investigators. The lawmakers are now asking that those documents be made public. Behind the scenes, the battle between Justice Department officials and senior members of Congress intensified over the past year, leading lawmakers to call on President Trump to intervene and declassify the documents.

In a 38 minute interview with the Daily Caller Tuesday, President Trump said the White House is “looking at it very seriously right now because the things that have gone on are so bad, so bad. I mean they were surveilling my campaign. If that happened on the other foot, they would’ve considered that treasonous. They would’ve considered that spying at the highest level. Can you imagine if we were doing that to Obama instead of Obama and his people doing that to us? Everybody would’ve been in jail for the next 500 years. OK? Can you believe it, where they paid this guy millions of dollars, it turned out? If you look at all of the things that are happening.”

Read more …

Only one way out: make it impossible. But that means giving them a different status.

Trump Accuses Social Media Firms Of Interfering In 2016, 2018 Elections (CNBC)

President Donald Trump accused social networks of interfering in the 2016 presidential election and November’s midterm elections. Trump told online conservative publication The Daily Caller he thinks big tech firms “already have” intervened in the midterms, and said Facebook and Google intervened in the 2016 presidential election on behalf of Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. “I mean the true interference in the last election was that — if you look at all, virtually all of those companies are super liberal companies in favor of Hillary Clinton,” Trump said, according to the outlet.

“Maybe I did a better job because I’m good with the Twitter and I’m good at social media, but the truth is they were all on Hillary Clinton’s side, and if you look at what was going on with Facebook and with Google and all of it, they were very much on her side.” The president also warned tech firms not to continue with alleged bias against conservatives. Trump accused Google last week of rigging search results to prioritize negative coverage and left-leaning news outlets. He warned the issue “will be addressed,” suggesting regulatory consequences for social media companies. Trump then mentioned rivals Facebook and Twitter by name, saying all three companies were “treading on very, very troubled territory and they have to be careful.” Google, Twitter and Facebook have denied political bias in the algorithmic tailoring of news content.

Read more …

“In an afternoon House hearing, Dorsey said if you sat down with a cup of coffee and read Twitter’s rules, you would not be able to understand them.”

Jack Dorsey Tops Sheryl Sandberg As Tech’s DC Rep (R.)

Jack Dorsey surprisingly topped Sheryl Sandberg as Big Tech’s best Washington representative. Twitter’s usually dry chief executive seemed more genuine than the polished Facebook No. 2 in his first congressional hearing. In Wednesday’s Senate Intelligence Committee hearing, Dorsey said he is a man of “few words.” It was a stark contrast to Sandberg, who is more at ease speaking in public; her Washington experience as Larry Summers’ chief of staff at Treasury two decades ago also showed through. But she sounded more like a politician, repeatedly saying “we can do better” and using jargon like “inauthentic accounts.”

Dorsey gave a more honest analysis of the existential dilemma facing his $25 billion micro-blogging site and other social-media platforms – from toxic interactions between users, to promulgation of actual fake news to election meddling. Yet inflammatory content often produces more user engagement, leading to growth and advertising revenue. Nonetheless, Dorsey told lawmakers he is taking a fundamental look at Twitter’s business model and user incentives. For example, the company is examining whether it’s right to entice a user to gather more followers by putting that figure in a noticeable font. The same goes for retweets. Dorsey said those metrics should not be a proxy for how much a user contributes to healthy dialogue on Twitter, one of the goals of the platform.

[..] The companies brought the scrutiny on themselves, partly by acting too slowly. But Dorsey sounded humbled and acknowledged reality while Sandberg seemed to think Facebook can manage lawmakers by outtalking them. In an afternoon House hearing, Dorsey said if you sat down with a cup of coffee and read Twitter’s rules, you would not be able to understand them. In the Senate, Sandberg sounded defensive when asked about Facebook’s terms of service.

Read more …

That’s some pretty brazen lies.

Sheryl Sandberg Misled Congress About Facebook’s Conscience (IC)

Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg draped herself in the star-spangled banner of American principles before today’s Senate Select Intelligence Committee hearing on social media. Sandberg proclaimed that democratic values of free expression were integral to the company’s conscience. “We would only operate in a country where we could do so in keeping with our values,” she went on. Either this was a lie told under oath, or Facebook has some pretty lousy values. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., questioned Sandberg and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey about the fact that they are both ostensibly American companies, but also firms with users around the world — including in countries with legal systems and values that differ drastically from the United States.

Rubio cited various governments that crack down on, say, pro-democracy activism and that criminalize such speech. How can a company like Facebook claim that it’s committed to free expression as a global value while maintaining its adherence to rule of law on a local level? When it comes to democratic values, Rubio asked, “Do you support them only in the United States or are these principles that you feel obligated to support around the world?” Sandberg, as always, didn’t miss a beat: “We support these principles around the world.” Shortly thereafter she made the claim that Facebook simply would not do business in a country where these values couldn’t be maintained. Based on the information Facebook itself makes available, this is false.

In its latest publicly available “transparency report,” Facebook says it helps block free expression as a matter of policy — so long as it’s technically legal in a given market. For instance, in the United Arab Emirates, a country that Human Rights Watch says “arbitrarily detains and in some cases forcibly disappears individuals who criticize the authorities,” Facebook does its part to help.

Read more …

if only the UK had functioning media.

Only 17% Expect A Good Brexit Deal For Britain, Just 40% Back Leave (ES)

Fewer than one in five voters now expect Britain to secure a good Brexit deal as Theresa May’s plans remain under fire, according to damning new research. The proportion of people expecting a good deal has slumped dramatically from 33% in February last year to just 17% in June 2018, the survey showed. The data was conducted and shared ahead of the publication of the Prime Minister’s heavily criticised Chequers plan for the UK’s future relationship with the EU. Some 57% of voters now predict Britain will end talks with a bad deal, up from 37% since February 2017. That’s according to the survey for NatCen Social Research. Just over 50% now expect the UK’s economy to be worse of as a result of Brexit, while just 38% said Britain’s departure would mean lower immigration.

According to the new figurers, only 13% said the Government had handled negotiations well so far. That’s down from 29% in February last year. Some 64% said it had handled talks badly. There was also very little support for the EU’s approach to negotiations, with 57% saying Brussels had handled them badly. Only 16% said it had handled them well. The report, by polling expert Professor Sir John Curtice of Strathclyde University, found that 59% of members of a NatCen panel now say they would vote Remain in a second referendum. Just 41% were backing Leave. However, the researchers cautioned that this apparently comfortable lead for Remain may be skewed by the fact those responding reported voting against Brexit by a margin of 53-47% in the 2016 referendum.

Read more …

Chequers is all May has.

Chequers Plan Is Dead,’ Says MP, Who Reported Rejection By Barnier (G.)

Theresa May’s Brexit plan was left mired in uncertainty after reports that the EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, told British MPs that “les propositions sont mortes” in a Brussels meeting. The Labour MP Stephen Kinnock revealed that in talks this week Barnier had declared the Chequers proposals “dead” and suggested that there was a fundamental misunderstanding in the UK about how the single market worked. “I can tell you absolutely, unequivocally, without a shadow of a doubt that Chequers is dead in the water. Michel Barnier made it crystal clear that Chequers is completely unacceptable to the EU,” Kinnock said.

The senior remainer urged the Brexit secretary, Dominic Raab, and the prime minister’s Brexit adviser Olly Robbins, appearing before the European scrutiny committee on Wednesday, to accept that Brussels was not simply “sabre rattling” as a negotiating tactic. May faces a concerted campaign to “chuck Chequers” from disgruntled Tory MPs, led by the former ministers Boris Johnson and David Davis. There are also deep-rooted concerns in Brussels over her facilitated customs arrangement and common rulebook proposals. Bill Cash, the veteran Tory Eurosceptic, told the committee that Chequers should be “put out of its misery” as the plan satisfied “virtually no one” while the former Brexit minister David Jones asked why the government was “flogging this dead horse”.

Read more …

Only thing to do for the US is to get out of the way, let Kim and Moon do what their people want them to: make peace, reunite. Trump understands this, Pompeo does not.

Kim Jong Un Wants To Denuclearize During Trump’s First Term (R.)

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said he wants to denuclearize the Korean peninsula during U.S. President Donald Trump’s first term, as he agreed to hold a third summit with his South Korean counterpart this month in Pyongyang, Seoul officials said on Thursday. Kim and South Korean President Moon Jae-in will meet in the North Korean capital on Sept. 18-20, during which they will discuss “practical measures” toward denuclearization, the South’s national security adviser, Chung Eui-yong, told reporters a day after meeting Kim in Pyongyang.

Kim told the South Korean officials that his faith in Trump remains “unchanged” and he wanted to denuclearize and end long-standing hostile relations between North Korea and the United States during Trump’s first term ending early 2021, Chung said. Kim’s remarks to South Korean officials mark the first time that the North Korean leader has offered a potential timeline for dismantling his country’s nuclear weapons programme. Kim “reaffirmed his determination to completely denuclearize” the peninsula, and expressed his willingness for close cooperation with South Korea and the United States in that regard, Chung said.

Read more …

For years, Abenomics was all about stimulus will create inflation. Double or nothing!

BOJ Board Member Urges More Stimulus, ‘No Room For Complacency’ (R.)

Bank of Japan (BOJ) board member Goushi Kataoka criticized on Thursday the central bank’s decision in July to make its policy framework more sustainable, arguing that it should have instead ramped up stimulus to hasten the achievement of its elusive price target. He also warned that escalating trade frictions could weigh on Japan’s export-reliant economy by slowing global economic expansion next year. “Global trade frictions are intensifying and there’s no room for complacency,” Kataoka said in a speech to business leaders in Yokohama, a city near Tokyo. Kataoka, who opposed the BOJ’s decision in July to take steps to address the rising costs of prolonged easing, said it was counter-productive to allow long-term yields to rise at a time inflation remained low.

“There’s no need to allow long-term interest rates to move in a wider range at a time when the BOJ is cutting its inflation forecasts,” he said. “Allowing long-term rates to rise at a time inflation and inflation expectations aren’t heightening much could delay achievement of the BOJ’s price target,” Kataoka said, adding that the BOJ must instead take additional easing measures to fire up inflation. Under its yield curve control policy, the central bank guides short-term interest rates at minus 0.1 percent and the 10-year government bond yield around zero percent.

Read more …

Germany’s surplus inside the EU is the bigger problem.

Huge Surplus Draws Germany Back Into Trump’s Trade War Line Of Fire (R.)

German trade figures later this week will serve as a reminder to global economy watchers, especially the primary occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Washington, D.C., of the chasm between countries that run huge current account surpluses and deficits. U.S. president Donald Trump last week renewed his attack on Germany and Europe for, in his view, manipulating the euro lower to boost exports and trade in their favour at the expense of U.S. companies. “Almost as bad as China, just smaller,” Trump told Bloomberg News. In fact, when it comes to trade surpluses vis-à-vis the United States and more broadly, Germany is bigger than China. If that U.S.-German chasm is allowed to go unchecked and stretch further, the snapback could trigger a surge in currency market volatility – currently near historic lows – and maybe even pose a threat to global financial stability.

Euro/dollar is the world’s most liquid and important exchange rate, accounting for almost a quarter of all FX trades, or around $1 trillion a day. It is so stable precisely because it is so deep and liquid. But there’s no guarantee it will remain an oasis of calm. Developed markets have been largely untouched by the volatility tearing through large parts of emerging markets right now, but no corner of world markets would be spared from turbulence, stress or rapid moves in the euro/dollar exchange rate. Germany had a larger trade surplus with the United States than any other country in the first half of this year, worth some 24.4 billion euros ($28.5 billion) which contributed to a global trade surplus of 121.5 billion euros.

Read more …

Intereting development.

Here’s Another Headache For Beaten-Up Auto Stocks (MW)

Americans are falling out of love with their cars — at least when it comes to the daily commute. Wolf Richter, of the Wolf Street financial blog, cites this growing challenge for the auto market, in our call of the day. “Driving, while still by far the top way of getting to work in America, has lost some ground,” Richter writes. “For auto makers, this is not a propitious trend.” Richter has created the chart below that’s based on recent Gallup polling. It shows a jump in the percentage of American workers who don’t use a car in their commute. That figure climbed to 16% this year, up from 9% in 2007. Instead of driving themselves or carpooling, these folks are taking public transportation, telecommuting, biking, walking or doing “something else” (maybe going by boat or scooter?). “This shift is real,” Richter says. “While the annual increments are small, spread over time they will further impact the dynamics of the auto industry.”

Read more …

The people who save lives are arrested by those who don’t. But in the end the value you attach to another person’s life is the one you attach to your own.

Tunisian Fishermen Await Trial In Italy After ‘Saving 100s Of Migrants’ (G.)

Friends and colleagues have rallied to the defence of six Tunisian men awaiting trial in Italy on people smuggling charges, saying they are fishermen who have saved hundreds of migrants and refugees over the years who risked drowning in the Mediterranean. The men were arrested at sea at the weekend after their trawler released a small vessel it had been towing with 14 migrants onboard, 24 miles from the coast of the Italian island of Lampedusa. Italian authorities said an aeroplane crew from the European border agency Frontex had first located the trawler almost 80 nautical miles from Lampedusa and decided to monitor the situation.They alerted the Italian police after the migrant vessel was released, who then arrested all crew members at sea.

According to their lawyers, the Tunisians maintain that they saw a migrant vessel in distress and a common decision was made to tow it to safety in Italian waters. They claim they called the Italian coastguard so it could intervene and take them to shore. Prosecutors have accused the men of illegally escorting the boat into Italian waters and say they have no evidence of an SOS sent by either the migrant boat or by the fishermen’s vessel. Among those arrested were 45-year-old Chamseddine Ben Alì Bourassine, who is known in his native city, Zarzis, which lies close to the Libyan border, for saving migrants and bringing human remains caught in his nets back to shore to give the often anonymous dead a dignified burial.

[..] Giulia Bertoluzzi, an Italian filmmaker and journalist who directed the documentary Strange Fish, about Bourassine, said the men were well known in their home town. “In Zarzis, Bourassine and his crew are known as anonymous heroes”, Bertoluzzi told the Guardian. “Some time ago a petition was circulated to nominate him for the Nobel peace prize. He saved thousands of lives since.”

Read more …

The Skripal story has been a stinker from the get-go, but come on, now you have Aunt Millie photoshopping pics?

The Impossible Photo (Craig Murray)

Russia has developed an astonishing new technology enabling its secret agents to occupy precisely the same space at precisely the same time. These CCTV images released by Scotland yard today allegedly show Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov both occupying exactly the same space at Gatwick airport at precisely the same second. 16.22.43 on 2 March 2018. Note neither photo shows the other following less than a second behind. There is no physically possible explanation for this. You can see ten yards behind each of them, and neither has anybody behind for at least ten yards. Yet they were both photographed in the same spot at the same second. The only possible explanations are:
1) One of the two is travelling faster than Usain Bolt can sprint 2) Scotland Yard has issued doctored CCTV images/timeline. I am going with the Met issuing doctored images.

Read more …

Aug 292018
 


Salvador Dali The burning giraffe 1937
Dali: “The only difference between immortal Greece and our era is Sigmund Freud who discovered that the human body, which in Greek times was merely neoplatonical, is now filled with secret drawers only to be opened through psychoanalysis.”

 

An ancient Latin saying goes: “Quod licet Iovi, non licet bovi” (what is permissible for Jupiter, is not for an ox). It feels very much on topic when social media are concerned. And as the heat over their censorship is turned up, it may well be the decisive factor.

Reuters reiterates today that on May 23, Manhattan US District Judge Naomi Reice Buchwald ruled that Donald Trump’ Twitter account is a public forum and blocking Twitter users for their views violates their right to free speech under the First Amendment. The same, says the ruling, applies to other government officials’ accounts.

On August 10, the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University sent the Justice Department a list of 41 accounts that remained blocked. Since, at least 20 have been unblocked. Interestingly, the same Justice Department has stated that the ruling was “fundamentally misconceived” arguing Trump’s account “belongs to Donald Trump in his personal capacity and is subject to his personal control, not the control of the government.”

Potentially even more interesting is that “the Internet Association, a trade group that represents Twitter, Facebook Inc, Amazon.com, and Alphabet Inc, filed a brief in the case earlier this month that did not back Trump or the blocked users but urged the court to “limit its decision to the unique facts of this case so that its decision does not reach further than necessary or unintentionally disrupt the modern, innovative Internet.” “

Yeah, they would like that, to make this about Trump only. But that would be strange, because the First Amendment doesn’t only apply to Trump (and/or government officials). It applies to everyone, including Twitter, Facebook, Amazon, and Alphabet. Or does it? Well, not according to the Internet Association:

“Despite any First Amendment status that this court might find in the ‘interactive spaces’ associated with President Trump’s account, Twitter retains authority to revoke access to both his account and the account of any user seeking to comment on President Trump’s account.”

Hmm. So Trump can’t block people from his own Twitter account, but Twitter can do whatever it wishes to that same account. Apart from, you know, banning him, even though many in the ‘left-leaning’ company would like to do just that. Then again, Trump’s 54 million followers make it a profitable account for Twitter. Still, this can obviously not stand. There are no different constitutions for different parties. And they’re not done:

“..there is a considerable risk that any decision that may recognize isolated public forums on Twitter will be misunderstood to hold that Twitter, too, can be subject to First Amendment scrutiny. …Twitter itself is not a state actor when it blocks or withdraws access to its account-holders or users, and it is therefore not subject to the First Amendment’s restraints.”

See? According to the Internet Association, the First Amendment doesn’t apply to its ‘members’, it applies to state actors only. It feels encouraged to make such statements directly by the wording of Judge Buchwald’s ruling. Put differently, Donald Trump’s Twitter account is a public forum but all the rest of Twitter is not (except for other officials).

Now, I’m not a lawyer, but it seems obvious that these people may well be shooting themselves in the foot after first having put it in their mouths. To date, the Internet Association’s members have been able to picture themselves as private enterprises not under the same rules as public ones.

 

But how much longer is that a feasible attitude? As I said recently, Twitter and Facebook have become the no. 1 warning system in cases of emergencies and disasters, and banning or blocking people from it is as dangerous, life threatening even, as banning people from having radio’s, phones or TVs.

When the first radio’s, phones, TVs were introduced, other warning systems were in place. But over time they became the warning system. As I put it earlier, first you’re an entity, and then you become a utility. And the US judicial system has acted decisively on this in the past, though by no means perfectly.

Twitter, Facebook, Google seek to find the magic sweetspot where they can do whatever they damn well want while raking in billion after billion. But they’re as much behind the curve as the political and legislative systems are. They have already fallen victim to their own success, but they either don’t realize it or try to obfuscate it.

Meanwhile, they’re still banning, shadowbanning and blocking to their heart’s content. They should understand that cannot go on. They’re not some Harvard hobby club anymore. They’re killing off the very legal protection they claim to be protected by, because their position in society shifts. It takes a while, largely because their rise has been meteoric, but politics will catch up; it has to.

Former UK ambassador to Uzbekistan Craig Murray wrote yesterday:

Facebook has deleted all of my posts from July 2017 to last week because I am, apparently, a Russian Bot. For a while I could not add any new posts either, but we recently found a way around that, at least for now. To those of you tempted to say “So what?”, I would point out that over two thirds of visitors to my website arrive via my posting of the articles to Facebook and Twitter. Social media outlets like this blog, which offer an alternative to MSM propaganda, are hugely at the mercy of these corporate gatekeepers.

As for us, the Automatic Earth, Facebook closed our 9-year account a while back without one word of warning or explanation. We asked many times why, but never received an answer. Sent documents to prove who we are, nothing. Gone 1000s of followers, gone traffic, gone revenues. It’s simply too much power for a bunch of geeks, now aligned with the Atlantic Council, to have. It must be broken up.

Murray on the Atlantic Council: “..extreme neo-con group part funded by NATO and whose board includes serial war criminal Henry Kissinger, Former CIA Heads Michael Hayden and Michael Morrell, and George Bush’s chief of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff, among a whole list of horrors.”

The companies could try and hide behind the fact that they’re international, and can’t be defined by US law only, but that would be a risky proposition. Julian Assange has by and large been denied his First Amendment rights by the current administration because he’s not an American, while Christopher Steele was granted his despite not being an American. Wobbly ground, that.

But yes, stay American and Baby Bells loom in your future. Not that this is the only issue Silicon Valley’s legal teams will have to tackle with:

Sammy Ketz, AFP’s Baghdad bureau chief, wrote yesterday:

.. it is not the news organisations who reap the profits but internet platforms, which help themselves to our reporting without paying a cent. [..] The media have endured a lot of pain for a long time before reacting to the financial drain, struggling with the consequences rather than the cause. They have laid off staff almost to the point of absurdity. Now they are demanding that their rights are respected so they can carry on reporting the news. [..]

We can no longer swallow the lie spread by Google and Facebook that an EU directive on such rights would threaten people’s ability to access the internet for free. Free access to the web will endure because the internet giants, which now use editorial content for free, can reimburse the media without asking consumers to pay.

Difficult? Impossible? Not at all. Facebook made $16bn in profits in 2017 and Alphabet (Google’s parent company) $12.7bn. They simply have to pay their dues. That is how the media will survive and the internet titans will be contributing to the diversity and freedom of the press they claim to support.

The Internet Association members don’t appear to get it yet, but their opportunity windows are fast shuttering. There is no way for them to keep on doing what they have, as they have, for much longer. They’ve drawn the ire of Donald Trump, and though they may tend to focus more on denouncing him, they’d better pay attention.

Because they don’t hold the cards. Or rather, they’ve been overplaying them. We know they’ve been meeting with the explicit goal of coming up with a general strategy for the November US mid-term elections. We also know they are left-leaning. And that they’ve banned and blocked many accounts.

All it takes is for a judge or the president to label them a utility, and put them in the same legal frame as a phone company or broadcaster. Because if they can’t be objective, while they are the no. 1 source of news for many people, the potential influence of their secret algorithms and obvious political bias is just too great.

And that is obstruction of democracy, and in the end, justice. As I wrote last week in The Shape of Trump to Come:

Trump will end the ‘monopolies’ of Facebook, Google, Twitter et al. [..] .. you simply can’t have a few roomfuls of boys and girls ban and shadowban people with impunity from networks that span the globe and reach half of the world’s population on the basis of opaque ‘Terms and Conditions’ that in effect trump the US constitution the way they are used and interpreted. Whether they are private companies or not will make no difference in the end.

I have the impression that they think they can fight this. All those billions buy good lawyers. But in the end, you can’t have the president under one set of constitutional rights, and Jack Dorsey or Mark Zuckerberg under another.

Sure, the intelligence community may protest whatever ‘solution’ the White House or DOJ comes up with. But they, too, must realize that elections that are very obviously skewed towards one side are a huge danger to America. And social media have obtained the power to skew them. Much more than a few bucks worth of Russian ads on their podium, that whole story is entirely insignificant compared to America’s ‘own’ social media.

Trump can simply say: if my account must be open, let that be true for everybody else’s too. Forbid any and all banning and blocking unless and until a judge permits it on constitutional grounds, on a case by case basis.

Judge Buchwald has opened that door by declaring Trump’s Twitter account a public forum. That speaks to the status of Twitter -and Facebook et al- in American society. She can’t take that back.

 

 

Aug 292018
 
 August 29, 2018  Posted by at 9:17 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Pablo Picasso In “Le Lapin Agile” or harlequin with a glass 1905

 

Almost Half Of Americans Can’t Pay For Their Basic Needs (CBS)
White House Probes Google After Trump Accuses It Of Bias (R.)
Trump Unblocks More Twitter Users After US Court Ruling (R.)
Facebook Censorship, Mad Ben Nimmo and the Atlantic Council (Craig Murray)
The Greatest Fake Bull Ever (Stockman)
China’s Building-Boom Hits A Wall As Shadow-Banking System Collapses (ZH)
A Senator Masquerading as a Gas Station (Dmitry Orlov)
Brazil Sends Army To Border As Venezuelans Flee Crisis At Home (R.)
Syria Ready To Take One Million Returning Refugees – Moscow (AFP)
Just 10 Rivers Carry 95% Of All Plastic Into The Ocean (BT)
Bees Develop Preference For Pesticides (PA)

 

 

Now imagine a shrinking economy thrown in.

Almost Half Of Americans Can’t Pay For Their Basic Needs (CBS)

Four in 10 Americans are struggling to pay for their basic needs such as groceries or housing, a problem even middle-class households confront, according to a new study from the Urban Institute. Despite the U.S. economy being near full employment, 39.4 percent of adults between 18 and 64 years old said they experienced at least one type of material hardship in 2017, according to the study, which surveyed more than 7,500 adults about whether they had trouble paying for housing, utilities, food or health care. The findings surprised researchers at the Urban Institute, who had expected to find high levels of hardship among poor Americans but hadn’t predicted so many middle-class families would also struggle to meet their basic needs.

That may illustrate that a middle-class income “is no guarantee” of protection from hardship, said Michael Karpman, research associate at the Urban Institute’s health Policy Center and a co-author of the report. Against the backdrop of President Donald Trump’s boasting about low unemployment and strong economic growth, the research adds nuance to the problems facing American families. Middle-class households tend to struggle with paying their health care bills rather than utilities, for instance. Health care costs have outpaced wages and inflation, pushing more Americans into high-deductible plans, which can backfire when serious health problems arise.

“A lot of people are looking at the fact that wages aren’t keeping up with household costs as one reason families are having difficulty making ends meet,” Karpman said. “Even for families with health insurance, they may be facing high deductibles that leave them facing high costs.”

Read more …

The bias is obvious. How to fight it is not.

White House Probes Google After Trump Accuses It Of Bias (R.)

U.S. President Donald Trump on Tuesday accused Google’s search engine of promoting negative news articles and hiding “fair media” coverage of him, vowing to address the situation without providing evidence or giving details of action he might take. Trump’s attack against the Alphabet Inc unit follows a string of grievances against technology companies, including social media Twitter Inc and Facebook Inc, which he has accused of silencing conservative voices, and Amazon.com Inc, which he has said is hurting small businesses and benefiting from a favorable deal with the U.S. Postal Services. He frequently berates news outlets for what he perceives as unfair coverage.

Google denied any political bias, saying in a statement that its search engine is “not used to set a political agenda and we don’t bias our results toward any political ideology.” Trump said in several tweets on Tuesday that Google search results for “Trump News” were “rigged” against him because they showed only coverage from outlets like CNN and not conservative publications, suggesting the practice was illegal. “I think Google is really taking advantage of our people,” Trump said on Tuesday in the Oval Office. “Google, and Twitter and Facebook, they are really treading on very, very troubled territory, and they have to be careful. It’s not fair to large portions of the population.”

Read more …

A pattern emerges. Trump violates 1st amendment when blocking users, but Twitter “retains authority to revoke access”. That cannot stand.

Trump Unblocks More Twitter Users After US Court Ruling (R.)

U.S. President Donald Trump on Tuesday unblocked some additional Twitter users after a federal judge in May said preventing people from following him violated individuals constitutional rights. U.S. District Judge Naomi Reice Buchwald in Manhattan ruled on May 23 that comments on the president’s account, and those of other government officials, were public forums and that blocking Twitter Inc users for their views violated their right to free speech under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. The Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University on August 10 sent the Justice Department a list of 41 accounts that had remained blocked from Trump’s @RealDonaldTrump account. The seven users who filed suit had their accounts unblocked in June.

The 41 blocked users include a film producer, screenwriter, photographer and author who had criticized President Trump or his policies. At least 20 of those individuals said on Twitter that Trump had unblocked them on Tuesday. The 41 users were not a comprehensive list of those blocked by Trump. Rosie O’Donnell, a comedian, said on Twitter late Tuesday that she remained blocked. [..] The ruling has raised novel legal issues. The Internet Association, a trade group that represents Twitter, Facebook Inc, Amazon.com, and Alphabet Inc, filed a brief in the case earlier this month that did not back Trump or the blocked users but urged the court to “limit its decision to the unique facts of this case so that its decision does not reach further than necessary or unintentionally disrupt the modern, innovative Internet.”

[..] The Internet Association said the court “should make clear that this case does not implicate the overwhelming majority of social media accounts throughout the Internet.” “Despite any First Amendment status that this court might find in the ‘interactive spaces’ associated with President Trump’s account, Twitter retains authority to revoke access to both his account and the account of any user seeking to comment on President Trump’s account,” the group said.

Read more …

Facebook deletes posts from a former UK ambassador.

Facebook Censorship, Mad Ben Nimmo and the Atlantic Council (Craig Murray)

Facebook has deleted all of my posts from July 2017 to last week because I am, apparently, a Russian Bot. For a while I could not add any new posts either, but we recently found a way around that, at least for now. To those of you tempted to say “So what?”, I would point out that over two thirds of visitors to my website arrive via my posting of the articles to Facebook and Twitter. Social media outlets like this blog, which offer an alternative to MSM propaganda, are hugely at the mercy of these corporate gatekeepers.

Facebook’s plunge into censorship is completely open and admitted, as is the fact it is operated for Facebook by the Atlantic Council – the extreme neo-con group part funded by NATO and whose board includes serial war criminal Henry Kissinger, Former CIA Heads Michael Hayden and Michael Morrell, and George Bush’s chief of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff, among a whole list of horrors.

The staff are worse than the Board. Their lead expert on Russian bot detection is an obsessed nutter named Ben Nimmo, whose fragile grip on reality has been completely broken by his elevation to be the internet’s Witchfinder-General. Nimmo, grandly titled “Senior Fellow for Information Defense at the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab”, is the go-to man for Establishment rubbishing of citizen journalists, and as with Joseph McCarthy or Matthew Clarke, one day society will sufficiently recover its balance for it to be generally acknowledged that this kind of witch-hunt nonsense was not just an aberration, but a manifestation of the evil it claimed to fight.

Read more …

“..the generational fiscal catastrophe that looms in the 2020s as 80 million baby-boomers pile onto the social security/medicare wagon.”

The Greatest Fake Bull Ever (Stockman)

the Wall Street stock indices have vastly out-run the meager gains in the main street economy since the pre-crisis peak; and that at this late stage of the business cycle—merely 10 months from the prior record—there is absolutely no plausible risk/reward equation left. That’s because earnings will plummet in the next recession—by 40% or more if history is any guide. And that’s likely to be conservative in view of the elephant in the casino that Wall Street stubbornly refuses to acknowledge. To wit, back in June 2007, the S&P 500 earnings peaked at $85 per share, but that reflected fully $55 per share of after-tax interest expense. Fast forward to the LTM period ending in December 2017 when earnings per share posted at $110 per share, but reflected only $19 per share of after-tax interest expense.

In other words, more than 100% of the gain over the past 11 years was due to the drastic financial repression of the central banks and its impact on corporate interest expense. Yet the central banks of the world—led belatedly by the Fed—have made an epochal pivot to QT (quantitative tightening) and interest rate normalization, even as the value of the interest expense deduction has been reduced to chump change owing to the new effective tax rate of about 15%. So interest expense is marching back up the hill, and it’s not remotely priced-in—not any more than the next recession or the generational fiscal catastrophe that looms in the 2020s as 80 million baby-boomers pile onto the social security/medicare wagon.

Read more …

Xi has let the shadows grow to fake the growth, and will have a hard time tackling them now.

China’s Building-Boom Hits A Wall As Shadow-Banking System Collapses (ZH)

Beijing wants to shore up growth without inundating the economy with cheap credit. But, as WSJ’s Walter Russell Mead pointed out previously, it’s not easy… “Chinese leaders know that their country suffers from massive over-investment in construction and manufacturing, that its real-estate market is a bubble that makes the Dutch tulip frenzy look restrained, that both conventional debt and debt in the shadow-banking system are too large and growing too rapidly. But even as the Communist Party centralizes power and clamps down on dissent, it dithers when it comes to the costly and difficult work of shifting China’s economic development onto a sustainable track. Chinese authorities have tried to tackle some of these problems, but often retreat when reforms start to bite and powerful interests push back.”

To see how hard that will be, The Wall Street Journal’s Nathaniel Taplin takes a look at China’s roads and railways. “China is the 800-pound gorilla of global infrastructure. Its building prowess has permeated popular culture, as in the disaster movie “2012” where China constructs giant ships to help humankind escape rising seas. Recently, however, China’s infrastructure build has all but ground to a halt.” Here’s why… The central government last year started to crack down on unregulated, opaque – so-called ‘shadow-bank’ borrowing – alarmed at its vast scale, and potential for corruption.

For five straight months, the shadow banking system has contracted under this pressure, sucking the malinvestment lifeblood out of economic growth and construction booms as Chinese local governments, which account for the bulk of such investment, set up as so-called local-government financing vehicles (off balance sheet), or LGFVs, and have seen an unprecedented net $19 billion outflow in recent months. As WSJ’s Talpin notes, these days Beijing prefers that local governments borrow on-the-books, through the now legal municipal bond market. The problem is that lower-rated and smaller cities are mostly shut out, even though they do most actual capital spending. As a result, investment has kept slowing even though China’s net muni bond issuance in July was three times higher than it was in March.

Read more …

“Other Americans just marched around ineffectually, waving banners and shouting antiwar slogans, but not McCain!”

A Senator Masquerading as a Gas Station (Dmitry Orlov)

John McCain is dead, and many people are celebrating whereas they should be sad. He wasn’t a friend of mankind—he was its enemy, but a really bad one. But with such grossly incompetent enemies—who needs friends? McCain did a great deal to destroy America. He devoted his entire lifetime to American destruction. To start with, he was quite effective as a protester against America’s genocidal war on the people of Vietnam. Other Americans just marched around ineffectually, waving banners and shouting antiwar slogans, but not McCain! His own father had a lot to do with starting that war, but McCain made up for that by destroying 26 American war planes. That’s quite something! If every American flyer crashed as many planes, countless innocent lives would have been saved.

Of course, he could have done even better—and he did try. He almost managed to destroy the US aircraft carrier Forrestal by setting it ablaze. To top off his illustrious military career, he surrendered to the enemy and spent five years in a Vietnamese prison. This made him a hero—in Americans’ eyes only, while the rest of the world saw in him a murderer of Vietnamese children. His “martyrdom” as a POW helped pave his way to a political career, first in Congress, then in the Senate. During his obscenely long career in national politics, McCain did what he could to make American “democracy” look like a complete joke and to hasten America’s collapse. This, by the way, wasn’t a tall order: American “democracy” had long been a cesspool—a playground for lobbyists and political technologists based on a fully gerrymandered system of fake elections. But he did his thing, and is therefore twice the hero.

Read more …

Fast getting out of hand.

Brazil Sends Army To Border As Venezuelans Flee Crisis At Home (R.)

Brazil said it was sending armed forces to keep order near the Venezuelan border area, while Peru declared a health emergency, as a regional crisis sparked by thousands of Venezuelans fleeing economic collapse escalated on Tuesday. In Brazil, where residents rioted and attacked Venezuelan immigrants in a border town earlier this month, President Michel Temer signed a decree to deploy the armed forces to the border state of Roraima. He said the move was aimed at keeping order and ensuring the safety of immigrants. Peru, meanwhile, declared a 60-day health emergency in two provinces on its northern border, citing “imminent danger” to health and sanitation.

The decree, published in the government’s official gazette, did not give more details on the risks, but health authorities have previously expressed concerns about the spread of diseases such as measles and malaria from migrants. The exodus of Venezuelans to other South American countries is building toward a “crisis moment” comparable to events involving refugees in the Mediterranean, the United Nations said this week. Temer blamed the socialist Venezuelan government of President Nicolas Maduro for the migration crisis. “The problem of Venezuela is no longer one of internal politics. It is a threat to the harmony of the whole continent,” Temer said in a televised address.

Read more …

If the US lets Syria rebuild.

Syria Ready To Take One Million Returning Refugees – Moscow (AFP)

Russia’s defence minister said on Tuesday that war-torn Syria would be ready to accept one million returning refugees, following Moscow-backed reconstruction work. “Since 2015, when towns and villages gradually started to be freed, more than one million people have returned home,” Sergei Shoigu said in comments reported by Russian news agencies. “Now every opportunity has been created for the return of roughly one million (more) refugees,” he told journalists. “Huge infrastructure reconstruction work is ongoing, the rebuilding of transport routes and security points so that Syria can begin accepting refugees.”

Russia, a long-time ally of Syria, launched a military intervention in 2015 to support the embattled regime of President Bashar al-Assad, a move that changed the course of the war. Assad and his allies have since recovered swathes of territory and the government is turning its attention to post-conflict reconstruction, with the aid of Moscow. The war that erupted in 2011, one of the most devastating conflicts since World War II, has displaced more than half of Syria’s population, including more than five million beyond its borders. Most of them fled to neighbouring countries, particularly Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon.

Read more …

It’ll take a gargantuan effort to stop this.

Just 10 Rivers Carry 95% Of All Plastic Into The Ocean (BT)

Cheap, durable and multifunctional, plastic is one of humanity’s most successful inventions. From the 1950s to 2015, we’ve produced 8.3 billion metric tons of the stuff. By now, it’s everywhere. It’s also non-biodegradable. And that’s devastating the environment. Only 9% of all plastic waste has been recycled, and another 12% has been incinerated. That means that almost 80%—nearly 6.3 billion tons—has turned into waste with no half-life to speak of: condemned to an eternity as landfill, litter or ocean-clogging junk. Every year, plastic kills around 1 million seabirds, 100,000 sea mammals and inestimable numbers of fish. The volume of plastic trash in the world’s oceans is currently estimated to be around 150 million tons. No less than eight million tons are added to that every year—that’s one truckload every minute.

Between 0.5 and 2.75 million tons come from rivers alone. Large rivers are particularly efficient conveyors of plastic waste to the oceans, especially in countries lacking a well-developed waste management infrastructure. Up to 95% of river-borne plastic comes from just 10 rivers, scientists at the Helmholtz Center for Environmental Research in Leipzig, Germany have found. The scientists analysed data on both microplastic debris (<5mm) such as beads and fibres, as well as microplastic objects (plastic bottles, bags, etc.) from 79 sampling sites on 57 of the world’s largest rivers, singling out the 10 mapped out here as the biggest culprits, due to “mismanagement of plastic waste in their watersheds”.

Read more …

Nicotine addiction.

Bees Develop Preference For Pesticides (PA)

Bumblebees acquire a taste for pesticide-laced food that can be compared to nicotine addiction in smokers, say scientists. The more of the nicotine-like chemicals they consume, the more they appear to want, a study has shown. The findings suggest that the risk of potentially harmful pesticide-contaminated nectar entering bee colonies is higher than was previously thought. In a series of studies, a team of British researchers offered bumblebees a choice of two sugar solutions, one of which was laced with neonicotinoid pesticides. They found that over time the bees increasingly preferred feeders containing the pesticide-flavoured sugar.

Dr Richard Gill, from the Department of Life Sciences at Imperial College London, said: “Given a choice, naive bees appear to avoid neonicotinoid-treated food. However, as individual bees increasingly experience the treated food they develop a preference for it. “Interestingly, neonicotinoids target nerve receptors in insects that are similar to receptors targeted by nicotine in mammals. “Our findings that bumblebees acquire a taste for neonicotinoids ticks certain symptoms of addictive behaviour, which is intriguing given the addictive properties of nicotine on humans, although more research is needed to determine this in bees.” Controversial neonicotinoid pesticides are chemically similar to nicotine, the addictive compound in tobacco.

Read more …