Apr 062019
 


Raphael The school of Athens 1509-11

 

Allow me to start with a question: Has anyone seen any of the main newspapers and networks who went after Donald Trump for 3 years accusing him of colluding with “the Russians”, apologize to either Trump, or to their readers and viewers, for spreading all that fake news now that Robert Mueller said none of that stuff was real, that they all just made it up?

I’ve seen only one such apology, albeit a very good and thorough one, from Sharyl Attkisson for The Hill. But one is a very meager harvest of course. With over 500,000 articles on collusion published on the topic, as Axios said -leading to 245 million social media ‘interactions’, shouldn’t there be more apologies, if only so people can hold on to their faith in US media for a while longer?

 

Apologies to President Trump

With the conclusions of special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe now known to a significant degree, it seems apologies are in order. However, judging by the recent past, apologies are not likely forthcoming from the responsible parties. In this context, it matters not whether one is a supporter or a critic of President Trump. Whatever his supposed flaws, the rampant accusations and speculation that shrouded Trump’s presidency, even before it began, ultimately have proven unfounded. Just as Trump said all along. Yet, each time Trump said so, some of us in the media lampooned him.

We treated any words he spoke in his own defense as if they were automatically to be disbelieved because he had uttered them. Some even declared his words to be “lies,” although they had no evidence to back up their claims.We in the media allowed unproven charges and false accusations to dominate the news landscape for more than two years, in a way that was wildly unbalanced and disproportionate to the evidence. We did a poor job of tracking down leaks of false information. We failed to reasonably weigh the motives of anonymous sources and those claiming to have secret, special evidence of Trump’s “treason.”

As such, we reported a tremendous amount of false information, always to Trump’s detriment. And when we corrected our mistakes, we often doubled down more than we apologized. We may have been technically wrong on that tiny point, we would acknowledge. But, in the same breath, we would insist that Trump was so obviously guilty of being Russian President Vladimir Putin’s puppet that the technical details hardly mattered. So, a round of apologies seem in order.

 

It’s a shame Attkisson refrains from labeling the whole decrepit circus as “fake news”, even if she says it’s just that, in different words. It’s a shame because the term “fake news” can this way remain connected to Trump, something the mainstream media really like. Because it allows for the media to cast doubts on the Mueller report, and for the Democrats to cast doubt on AG Bill Barr.

But they, the MSM, CNN and the NYT, are the ones who, as Robert Mueller has proven, have been spreading fake news all that time, not Trump. And if you would suggest they apologize, they’ll tell you that you’re too early, wait for the report to be released, or that Bill Barr is holding tons of stuff back, or that Mueller didn’t have access to elementary info, or that Trump is a really bad person or or or.

Their reputations would be lost forever if they issue a mea culpa, and apologizing constitutes a mea culpa, so that’s not going to happen. And they all think their credibility remains sound and alive, because they live in echo chambers where they don’t have to listen to anyone prepared to cast any doubt on their credibility.

I first said it years ago: in the new -digital, social- media age, the mainstream media have only one chance of survival: report the naked truth, and be relentless about that. There are a billion voices who can write up rumors, slander, smear and other falsities, but none have the organizations to find out the truth.

Well, it looks like they gave up on that one chance. Russiagate has made it crystal clear that the MSM would rather make a quick buck than investigate, that money and political views trump veracity any day where they operate. So stick a fork in them and turn them over; they’re done.

 

April 1 was the perfect moment to add it all up, and the Babylon Bee did exactly that:

 

CNN Publishes Real News Story For April Fools’ Day

Fooling thousands of readers in a prank that the cable news organization said was “just for fun,” CNN published a real news story for April Fools’ Day this year. The story simply contained a list of facts, with no embellishment, editorializing, or invented details. The story also didn’t cite shaky “anonymous sources” and only quoted firsthand witnesses to the event. It was completely factual without any errors whatsoever. Baffled CNN fans immediately knew something was up.


“I was reading this story, and I was like, ‘Wait, what is this?'” said one man in New York who relies on CNN for his fake news every morning. “They really got me good. Then I looked up at the calendar and I realized I’d been duped. A classic gag!” “Those little rascals!” he added, shaking his head and laughing goodnaturedly. “As long as they return to their regularly scheduled fake news tomorrow, we’re good. We’re good.”

 

We could stop right there. What’s to add? It sums up America to the core. Then again, perhaps not quite yet. How about we add this from the BBC?

 

Is Facebook Winning The Fake News War?

For the people contracted by Facebook to clamp down on fake news and misinformation, doubt hangs over them every day. Is it working? “Are we changing minds?” wondered one fact-checker, based in Latin America, speaking to the BBC. “Is it having an impact? Is our work being read? I don’t think it is hard to keep track of this. But it’s not a priority for Facebook. “We want to understand better what we are doing, but we aren’t able to.”


[..] While there are efforts from fact-checking organisations to debunk dangerous rumours within the likes of WhatsApp, Facebook has yet to provide a tool – though it is experimenting with some ideas to help users report concerns.

 

Right, Facebook Fights Fake News. Right. 533,074 web articles on Trump-Russia collusion pre-Mueller report according to Axios, and 245 million ‘interactions’ -including likes, comments and shares- on Twitter and Facebook. Let’s say 100 million on Facebook.

How much did they catch as fake news in their valiant efforts? Not “the Russians” spreading fake news, but the New York Times? How about none? How many times did Facebook shut down the New York Times? Rachel Maddow? None. But Robert Mueller says all those articles about collusion were fake news.

Those reputations are gone forever. Nobody serious will ever again believe anything these people say. Oh, their own subscribers will, but they don’t count as serious people. They swallowed all the nonsense for all of that time. Get real.

 

Talking about reputations: I decided to try and follow the trails of the Steele dossier earlier, because I think if you figure out the road that dossier has traveled, who has been pushing it etc., you can get a long way towards finding out how how Russiagate came about.

I turned to Wikipedia first, where “Steele dossier” automatically becomes “Trump-Russia dossier”. I read the intro, and it was already so clear where Wikipedia stands on this: not on Trump’s side. Impartiality does not count as a virtue there either. And I know that this stuff is written by third parties, but does Jimmy Wales really want to devalue his life’s work for party politics?

Right below the intro of the very long entry, a familiar name pops up: Luke Harding, and I’m thinking HAHAHAHA!

Luke Harding, after making a mint with his book Collusion, which Robert Mueller has singlehandedly moved into the Fiction section of the bookstore, and co-writing Manafort Held Secret Talks With Assange In Ecuadorian Embassy last November, which Mueller fully discredited, is presented as a source for an entry about collusion? Oh boy.

A few paragraphs down I come upon the name Victoria Nuland, and again of course I think HAHAHAHA, what kind of source is she? Nuland became notorious for colluding with John McCain on Maidan Square in Kiyv, and she has less credibility than Harding, if such a thing is possible. A Nuland quote from the Wikipedia article:

 

“In the middle of July [2016], when he [Steele] was doing this other work and became concerned, he passed two to four pages of short points of what he was finding and our immediate reaction to that was, ‘This is not in our purview’.” “This needs to go to the FBI if there is any concern here that one candidate or the election as a whole might be influenced by the Russian Federation. That’s something for the FBI to investigate.”

The entry continues:

 

It has remained unclear as to who exactly at the FBI was aware of Steele’s report through July and August, and what was done with it, but they did not immediately request additional material until late August or early September, when the FBI asked Steele for “all information in his possession and for him to explain how the material had been gathered and to identify his sources. The former spy forwarded to the bureau several memos — some of which referred to members of Trump’s inner circle. After that point, he continued to share information with the FBI.”[57][56]

According to Nancy LeTourneau, political writer for the Washington Monthly, the report “was languishing in the FBI’s New York field office” for two months, and “was finally sent to the counterintelligence team investigating Russia at FBI headquarters in Washington, D.C.”, in September 2016.[65]

Meanwhile, in the July to September time frame, according to The Washington Post, CIA Director John Brennan had started an investigation with a secret task force “composed of several dozen analysts and officers from the CIA, the NSA and the FBI”. At the same time, he was busy creating his own dossier of material documenting that “Russia was not only attempting to interfere in the 2016 election, they were doing so in order to elect Donald Trump … [T]he entire intelligence community was on alert about this situation at least two months before [the dossier] became part of the investigation.”

 

Ergo: the fully deranged Nuland, then Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs, gets the dossier to the FBI, where nothing happens with it despite Nuland’s insistence that it shows terrible things going on, until someone (McCain?!) gets it to Brennan, and then the ball gets rolling.

There’s all these people in the Hillary sphere of influence who pick it up, in the media, the House, and the FBI and CIA. Because the campaign decides a story about prostitutes peeing on a bed where Obama once slept can a be a winner, and by July 2016 a few nerves had started twitching. The entire machinery shifted into gear right then and there.

The index to the entry contains some 350 links to articles, almost all by the usual suspects and with the usual angles. It all oozes collusion. An exception is Bob Woodward in January 2017:

 

‘Garbage Document’: Woodward Says US Intel Should Apologize Over Trump Dossier

Woodward said on “Fox News Sunday” the dossier was a “garbage document” and that Trump’s point of view on the matter is being “under-reported.”Woodward said the dossier should never have been presented at an intelligence briefing and it was a mistake for U.S. intelligence officials to do so. “Trump’s right to be upset about that … Those intelligence chiefs, who were the best we’ve had, who were terrific and have done great work, made a mistake here.


And when people make mistakes, they should apologize,” said Woodward. Meantime, Woodward’s former partner in reporting on the Watergate scandal, helped report the news about the dossier on CNN last week. Carl Bernstein defended the reporting on the dossier, dismissing Trump’s contention that it was “fake news.” Bernstein argued that U.S. intelligence saw fit to present the material to President Obama and President-elect Trump.

 

“Mistakes” by the intelligence chiefs? Hard to believe, if you’ve followed Brennan, Clapper, Comey in the past 2 years.

Not sure I’m going to finish reading that Wikipedia entry on the Steele dossier. What’s the point? It’s fantasy advertized as fact in order to make money. It’s misleading, it’s fake and it seeks to damage people. It would appear we’d be better off discussing what fake news is (and what is not), and to not stick the label to everything Trump says, or the $50 million spent on the Mueller probe will have been entirely wasted.

What we can learn from it is that we can no longer trust the media we once had confidence in. Those days are gone and they won’t be back. They’ve been lying for a long time for their 30 pieces of silver, and once your credibility is gone, it’s gone for good.

That, by the way, is why we need Julian Assange so much, because we know he doesn’t lie. But of course that little fact has also already been buried in a big pile of fake news.

Orwell would be delighted.

 

 

Jan 192019
 


Johannes Vermeer Girl Reading a Letter at an Open Window 1657-59

 

In the last few days I was looking around for stories that could illustrate what fake news actually is, and I had a nice collection, but then last night Robert Mueller of all people clarified what exactly fake news is better than I could have. At first the BuzzFeed crew that was caught staring straight into the headlights has a feeble response (what exactly was untrue in our article?), but was silenced by the WaPo of all publications: Mueller’s team said every bit of the article was false.

And still I wonder if people now understand better what fake news is. Which I think has a lot to do whit the fact that the term was monopolized by a section of US media as meaning things that had to do with Trump, more or less exclusively. That way, when Trump accused these same media of publishing fake news, they knew their loyal readers wouldn’t believe him.

But in reality they’ve been at it ever since Trump entered US politics, and they dug in ever deeper into their anti-Donald trenches, first for political reasons, later for profit (nothing sells like Trump in America today). And in the process, especially since they published umpteen pieces a day on the topic, they had to use unproven and biased allegations and innuendo. There was never enough real news to go around to feed the monster they created. That’s how we got Russiagate.

Still, of course, like me, you want to know how fake news is recognized, how ‘experts’ tell it apart from real news. Well, despair no more. An actual professor researched it, and was quoted by the New York Times last week, which doesn’t publish fake news, it says. I got to say, personally, I found this highly enlightening.

 

Older People Shared Fake News on Facebook More Than Others in 2016 Race

The authors were careful in defining “fake news,” a term that has been weaponized by many, including President Trump, to dismiss real news they dislike. “Reasonable people disagree about where to draw the line and we were very conscious of those issues,” Professor Guess said.

As a result, they assembled a limited list of sites that reliably published fake content, based on various sources, including reporting from BuzzFeed News. As best the researchers could tell, the list did not include any websites associated with Russian disinformation efforts, according to Professor Guess. The Facebook and survey data came from a group of about 3,500 people whom the authors tracked during the 2016 election in order to better understand the role social media played in political discourse.

They found that Republicans and those who identified as “very conservative” tended to share the most news from questionable sources. But that tendency may have less to do with ideology and more to do with what those articles said: Users tend to share stories they agree with and the fake news sites were disproportionately pro-Trump, the authors said.

So the researchers distinguish fake news from real news, but they don’t tell us -or the NYT doesn’t- what methods they use to tell the two apart. They do tell us that what Trump calls fake news is merely real news he dislikes. It’s funny how people say that so easily, and never think they themselves might do just that.

“..a limited list of sites that reliably published fake content..” sounds intriguing, but not convincing. That this list partly comes from BuzzFeed is hilarious in view of Mueller’s indictment of BuzzFeed’s article about Trump instructing Michael Cohen to lie. Other than that, the article doesn’t really say much. But luckily Quentin Fottrell, personal finance editor at MarketWatch, elaborates (free advice: Quentin, stick to your trade!)

His article caught my eye because whereas the NYTimes piece talked about older people sharing more fake news, Quentin adds that it’s about Republican older people. And that I find hard to believe. At least without proof; I wouldn’t want to jump to such conclusions based on fake news. Let’s see how far I can get:

 

Why Republican Baby Boomers Are More Likely To Share #Fakenews On Facebook

So why are Republican baby boomers more likely to share fake news on Facebook? One theory: As they didn’t grow up with technology, they may be more susceptible to being fooled.

That one sentence says a lot about this entire ‘study’. It even sounds fake to me. Because while I can see the “less exposed to tech” issue to an extent, I see no reason why Republican baby boomers would be fooled more easily by technology than their Democrat peers.

[..] Andrew Guess, an associate professor at Princeton University, and his colleagues disseminated an online survey to 3,500 people in three waves throughout the 2016 campaign. Of the respondents, 1,331 in the initial wave agreed to share their Facebook profile data, which allowed researchers to analyze the age and political affiliations of those people who were more likely to spread fake news.

The results showed that 90% of these users actually did not share misleading or fake articles and only 8.5% shared one or more fake news articles. A plurality, 18%, of the Facebook users who shared the fake stories were both self-identified Republicans and over the age of 65, the authors concluded, and these individuals shared nearly seven times as many fake news articles as respondents in the youngest age group, ranging in age from 18 to 29.

I had to look at this a few times. Here’s what I think it says:

• They ‘studied’ 3,500 people in 3 waves, of which the initial one was larger than 1,331 people, since that is the segment of the first wave who shared their Facebook data (we assume not all did).

• 90% of these 1,331, or 1,198 people, shared nothing at all (no fake news).

• 8.5% of the 1,331, or 114 people, did share fake news stories. 18% of those 114 (so 18% of 8.5%), or 20 people, were self-identified Republicans over the age of 65.

• Therefore 20 people out of 3,500, or 0.57%, were older Republicans who shared fake news (as it was defined by the survey). There are probably even more people in that target group suffering from dementia than the 0.57% who shared fake news. So what are we looking at here?

You could argue that it’s really 20 people out of 1,331, but that’s still only 1.5%. Meaningless.

• These 20 people shared 7 times as many fake news pieces as young people. That may be true, but they also shared more than 99.43% of people their own age. Does this still mean anything at all to you?

Quentin delights us with some more data;

Another possible explanation: Older Americans may have felt particularly passionate and entrenched in their political views and, therefore, ideological. For instance, the most ideological members of Congress shared news stories on their Facebook pages more than twice as often as moderate legislators between Jan. 2, 2015, and July 20, 2017, according to a 2018 Pew Research Center study, which examined all official Facebook posts created by and for members of Congress in this period.

If you ask me, it’s peculiar to make statements about politics that heap ordinary Americans together with politicians, but at least that paragraph doesn’t say Republicans are more likely than others to [fill in your preference]. But then we’re off to the races again:

[..] What’s more, baby boomers are more likely to be conservative and ideological, according to data crunched by Pew. “In both 2015 and 2016, about one in 10 baby boomers identified as conservative Republicans — the highest percentages dating back to 2000,” researchers Shiva Maniam and Samantha Smith wrote for Pew. “In both years, conservative Republicans made up the largest single partisan and ideological group among boomers.”

Wait. The logic here is that baby boomers are more likely to be conservative and ideological because 1 in 10 baby boomers say they’re conservative Republicans. But that means 9 out of 10 does not. This doesn’t even make a single sliver of sense. Yo, Quentin (and professor Guess), we need some help here.

To be fair, older Republicans share more news in general, and fake news gets caught up in the mix. Members of Congress with very conservative or very liberal voting records both shared news links in about 14% of all their posts, but members with more moderate ideology scores shared links to news stories in just 6% of their posts, Pew found.

That starts out with older Republicans in general and then seamlessly veers into members of Congress from both sides of the aisle, with either very conservative or very liberal voting records. Not fully self-contradictory, but darn close.

There may also be a political explanation: A trickle-down effect from the president’s own remarks about the liberal media. Older Republicans could feel more emboldened by Trump’s comments and, as a result, assume stories that support their causes are accurate.

That’s the first time I explicitly read Quentin saying that fake news is linked to Trump. But other than that, there is no sign that older Democrats don’t feel ’emboldened’ by DNC or Hillary or Pelosi comments just as much as Republicans do by Trump. Quentin and professor Guess only pretend to make a point, but there’s nothing there.

The president has doubled down of late on the view that the mainstream media’s negative coverage of his administration is rooted in bias. “The media also has a responsibility to set a civil tone and to stop the endless hostility and constant negative and often times false attacks and stories,” Trump said last year.

“Confirmation bias” helps outlandish theories and reports gain traction on social media. And that, psychologists say, is where fake news comes in.

Since there is nothing that indicates one political side is more prone to confirmation bias than the other, fake news will necessarily also occur on both sides. Why you would have psychologists define fake news I don’t know. Oh, and I think that Trump comment makes a lot of sense.

With so much noise on social media, how can people distinguish between rumor and reality? Psychologists say people develop defense mechanisms to cope with an uncertain world early in life, but this also draws people to information that seems to confirm their own beliefs and world views and to ignore reports or opinions that contradict their perceptions.

“At its core is the need for the brain to receive confirming information that harmonizes with an individual’s existing views and beliefs,” said Mark Whitmore, an assistant professor of management and information systems in Kent State University’s business school. “In fact, one could say the brain is hard-wired to accept, reject, miss-remember or distort information based on whether it is viewed as accepting of or threatening to existing beliefs.”

Older Americans may be less likely to question authority

However, many people effectively rationalize the irrational in order to avoid going against values and ideas they were taught by their parents. “Children’s learning about make-believe and mastery becomes the basis for more complex forms of self-deception and illusion into adulthood,” Eve Whitmore said. When people are faced with absurd and conflicting messages, her husband added, “It becomes easier to cling to a simple fiction than a complicated reality.”

[..] Ultimately, however, it may come down to our trust in the internet, rather than institutions or belief systems. “People who have grown up with the internet have experienced things that are not necessarily truthful. They have had experiences on social media or they have witnessed friends dealing with false information, which has made them more skeptical about what they read versus the baby boomers who did not grow up with the internet and have, therefore, limited experience.”

Remember, the article’s headline is “Why Republican Baby Boomers Are More Likely To Share #Fakenews On Facebook”. And then it does absolutely nothing to make that point, but instead goes a very long way to proving that ALL baby boomers do that. Either one of which, first of all, you don’t prove by talking 20 people out of a sample of 3,500, but moreover, secondly, your entire article -strongly- appears to deny.

And do we know what fake news is now, are we any closer to that? Not that I can see. And there’s no way I can say it all in one go, so I’ll get back to this topic. But not before thanking Robert Mueller for defining fake news in his own way. It must have cost him, and the FBI and DOJ, some genuine heartache, but in the end he couldn’t let the entire avalanche of media and Democrats run with such an overtly fake piece of ‘news’. There were calls for Congressional investigations based on it, for crying out loud.

Speaking of which, crying out loud might be what you expect BuzzFeed to do now, but don’t count on it: they got a ton of free publicity, and that’s all the entire fake news cycle has been based on from the start. And if it didn’t kill the New York Times or CNN, why would it kill BuzzFeed? It’s a growth industry. And credibility is overrated.

 

 

Jan 192019
 


Pablo Picasso Guitar on a table 1922

 

Mueller Shoots Down Buzzfeed’s Latest Russiagate Scoop With Rare Dismissal (RT)
US Asked Ecuadorean Officials About Alleged Assange-Manafort Meeting (R.)
56% Majority Of Britons Now Want To Remain In The EU – Poll (DM)
Extending The Brexit Deadline Could Clash With Coming EU Elections (CNBC)
EU Loves British Money More Than It Loves Democracy (Clark)
UK Patients Stockpile Drugs In Fear Of No-Deal Brexit (G.)
UK Shoppers Rein In Spending As Fears Grow Over Economy (G.)
Rising Credit-Card Use Shows US Consumers Are Strapped (DDMB)
Tesla Cuts 7% Of Workforce, Musk Sees ‘Very Difficult’ Road Ahead (CNBC)
Tesla Has $920 Million In Debt Coming Due, A Third Of Company’s Cash (CNBC)
Russia Outshines China To Become World’s 5th Biggest Holder Of Gold (RT)
French Court Cites Precautionary Principle To Cancel Monsanto Permit (R.)

 

 

Is this the worst day for fake news to date? It’s hard to keep track. It’s just that this one was taken up by so many hoping for -finally!- impeachment. Please Lord make it stop.

Two reasons why Mueller issued his statement: 1) the credibility of the Special Counsel itself (since every outlet ran with the -false- BuzzFeed story), 2) members of Congress were calling for investigations based on the story (would have been even more embarrassing than making the statement).

One Shimon Prokupecz on Twitter: “We cannot underestimate the statement disputing Buzzfeed’s story from the special counsel. I’m sure it pained them to do this. I’m sure this went through many levels at the DOJ and FBI. They don’t talk. This is massive.”

Trump on Twitter: “Remember it was Buzzfeed that released the totally discredited “Dossier,” paid for by Crooked Hillary Clinton and the Democrats (as opposition research), on which the entire Russian probe is based! A very sad day for journalism, but a great day for our Country!”

Mueller Shoots Down Buzzfeed’s Latest Russiagate Scoop With Rare Dismissal (RT)

Special Counsel Robert Mueller has poured cold water on BuzzFeed’s latest Russiagate “bombshell” with a rare public statement calling the article, which claims Trump told his ex-lawyer Cohen to lie to Congress, “not accurate.” BuzzFeed reported that President Donald Trump directly instructed his former attorney, Michael Cohen, to lie to Congress about his plans to build a Trump Tower property in Moscow, citing two anonymous “federal law enforcement officials” as sources that the president had suborned perjury – which, being an actual crime, triggered talk of impeachment “walls closing in” among the anti-Trump “Resistance.”

While half of Congress took to Twitter to wave the story as the long-awaited proof of Collusion, the BuzzFeed reporters could not seem to agree on their own sourcing. Anthony Cormier admitted to CNN he hadn’t seen the proof directly but had two “law enforcement” sources claiming they had seen it, while Jason Leopold told MSNBC they had in fact seen the documents themselves. The smoking gun du jour collapsed further when word came down from Mueller himself – via spokesman Peter Carr – that Buzzfeed’s “description of specific statements to the Special Counsel’s Office, and characterization of documents and testimony obtained by this office, regarding Michael Cohen’s Congressional testimony” were “not accurate.”

Mueller has been extremely tight-lipped about the numerous previous “Russiagate” scoops, and considering the time and effort involved in his own ongoing crusade to take Trump down, his dismissal of BuzzFeed’s would-be bombshell knocked the legs out from under a story whose vague sourcing had already raised questions.

Read more …

And this fits in seamlessly with the Mueller/BuzzFeed thing: The Guardian story has been thoroughly discredited, but 2 months later, US officials are still chasing it. What’s new to me is that it’s the first time I see a Guardian response: “The Guardian has defended the article and said it “relied on a number of sources.” Lame poppycock. And the same thing Buzzfeed says.

US Asked Ecuadorean Officials About Alleged Assange-Manafort Meeting (R.)

U.S. officials spoke with officials from Ecuador’s British embassy on Friday about an alleged meeting there between President Donald Trump’s former campaign manager, Paul Manafort, and WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, an Ecuadorean government source said. The Guardian newspaper reported the meeting in November, alleging the two met at least three times, including in 2016, just before WikiLeaks released damaging emails about Trump’s rival in the 2016 presidential elections, Hillary Clinton. Manafort and Assange have both previously denied meeting each other at the embassy.

WikiLeaks, in a statement on Friday entitled the “U.S. interrogation of Ecuadorian diplomats,” accused Ecuador’s government of assisting the United States in prosecuting Assange, who first sought asylum in the embassy in 2012. The source said the embassy officials, at the request of the U.S. Justice Department, provided testimony in Quito at facilities provided by Ecuadorean authorities. [..] Part of Mueller’s probe has involved looking into whether Trump associates may have had advance notice before WikiLeaks published emails stolen by Russian hackers from Democratic computer networks to damage Clinton. WikiLeaks called the Guardian’s story “indisputably fabricated” and said it was being used as a pretext for the United States to prosecute Assange. The Guardian has defended the article and said it “relied on a number of sources.”

Read more …

But neither one of the two main parties do. How screwed up is that? Nobody represents the majority.

56% Majority Of Britons Now Want To Remain In The EU – Poll (DM)

A majority of Britons now say they want to stay in the EU after Theresa May’s Brexit plan suffered a massive defeat, a new poll published today has found. A YouGov survey asked 1,070 voters how they would vote in a second Brexit referendum if it were held today – and found Remain has stretched out a 12-point lead over Leave, with 56% saying they would vote to stay in the EU versus 44% in favour of leaving. The voters were questioned the day after the PM’s Brexit plan suffered a crushing defeat – leaving the machinery of government deadlocked and with the bitter divisions among MPs offering no clear way ahead.

Ministers are now at war over Brexit, openly clashing over whether Britain should be willing to crash out without a deal on March 29, or back a softer Brexit or second referendum. The Prime Minister must make a statement on Monday where she will lay out her ‘next steps’ on a Brexit ‘plan B’ before a week of debate on the various options. The following week, MPs will vote on their preferred course of action, putting huge pressure on the Prime Minister to adopt it. With Westminster gripped by chaos, the new poll suggests voters are losing faith in Brexit with growing numbers now backing Remain. The survey for The Times found that 56% of those polled would now back staying in the EU, while the same proportion back a second referendum. And voters were even more likely to want to stay in the bloc if the only other option was the PM’s Brexit deal, with Remain leading by 65% to 35%.

Read more …

If Article 50 were extended, which looks pretty sure, Britain will have to vote in European elections. But their seats have already been given out to others.

Extending The Brexit Deadline Could Clash With Coming EU Elections (CNBC)

Extending the official Brexit deadline for the U.K. could bring a wave of extra logistical and political problems for the EU. The ongoing deadlock has sparked a debate on the potential extension of Article 50 — the legal means by which the U.K. leaves the EU. However, there is strong opposition from some European lawmakers over giving more time to the U.K. to sort out its domestic politics. The U.K. is set to leave the EU on March 29 — but this could change if the U.K. asks for an extension and the other 27 member nations accept the request. Extending the departure beyond the agreed date would likely clash with European parliamentary elections that are set to take place between May 23 and 26. The chamber is made of lawmakers from all 28 European member countries, including the U.K., and is responsible for approving European policies, such as the Union’s total budget.

“What we will not let happen, deal or no deal, is that the mess in British politics is again imported into European politics. While we understand the U.K. could need more time, for us it is unthinkable that Article 50 is prolonged beyond the European Elections,” Guy Verhofstadt, a member of the European Parliament and its representative in Brexit negotiations, said on Twitter on Wednesday. [..] Seb Dance, member of the European Parliament for the U.K. Labour party, said the prospect of having Brexit and the European elections clashing “is a logistical headache.” “The impact of delaying Brexit on the EU elections is certainly troublesome logistically speaking,” he said, “but politically speaking it shouldn’t make a difference as it is entirely possible that elections take place in the other member states without needing to take place in Britain.”

[..] According to a Brussels-based European official, who did not want to be named due to the sensitivity surrounding the Brexit talks, an extension would likely mean that the U.K. would have to participate in the vote. This is because it would still technically be a member of the European Union. Zsolt Darvas, senior fellow at Bruegel, reiterated this point in an email to CNBC Friday. “If the extension goes beyond the elections, the U.K. would have to elect members of the European Parliament. Not expecting this, the European Parliament has already agreed on how to allocate the U.K. seats after Brexit. That agreement will have to be revised, or perhaps its implementation be postponed after the actual, delayed Brexit date.”

“From the U.K. side, it might look awkward to elect members of the European Parliament when people expect that the U.K. will leave the EU not much after the European elections; plus the U.K. would need to act quickly to make the European Parliament election possible, which would also involve some costs.”

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“..the Common Fisheries Quota has for the past 34 years given 84% of the cod in the English Channel to France and just 9% to the UK..”

EU Loves British Money More Than It Loves Democracy (Clark)

The European establishment is desperate for Britain to reconsider Brexit. Internationalist ideals about ‘preserving European unity’, don’t come in to it, this is all about protecting income streams. Consider a few facts. If Britain does leave without a deal, then the EU as an institution would be considerably worse off. The UK has consistently been one of the top three countries that puts most into the EU budget (after Germany and France). It is one of ten countries that puts more into the EU than it gets out. In 2017, the UK’s net contribution was £9bn. If Britain leaves, the EU faces a financial shortfall. In 2016, 16 countries were net receivers, including Donald Tusk’s Poland. Little wonder that he regards Britain staying as “the only positive solution”.

The very generous financial remuneration packages of EU officials might also be threatened by British withdrawal. In December, it was reported that the EU’s top civil servants would be paid over €20,000 a month for the first time, and that Tusk and Juncker would see their packages rise to €32,700 a month. Austerity? Not in Brussels, mon ami! The EU is a fabulous gravy train once you are on board. But the gravy train relies on its richest members not leaving, otherwise who’s going to foot the bill? If Britain leaves with ‘No Deal’, it’s not just the EU budget which will take a hit. In 2017, EU countries sold around £67 billion more in goods and services to the UK, than the UK sold to them. Europe needs full and unfettered access to British markets, much more than Britain needs full and unfettered access to European markets.

[..] The country that would lose out the most with Brexit is Germany. Britain’s trade deficit with Germany is higher than with any other country, even higher than China, whose products are everywhere in our shops! In 2016, the year of the EU referendum, Britain imported around £26 billion more from Germany than it exported. [..] We also have to discuss fishing. The other EU countries do extremely well out of the Common Fisheries Policy, which provides them with access to UK waters. Belgian fleets get around half their catch from British waters! As reported in the Independent, the Common Fisheries Quota has for the past 34 years given 84% of the cod in the English Channel to France and just 9% to the UK. Overall, EU vessels take out around four times as much fish out of UK waters as British vessels take out of EU waters.

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Is it Brexit or just the overall state of affairs as the Tories dismantle the NHS?

UK Patients Stockpile Drugs In Fear Of No-Deal Brexit (G.)

Ministers have been urged by top doctors to reveal the extent of national drug stocks, amid growing evidence patients are stockpiling medication in preparation for a no-deal Brexit. The Royal College of Physicians (RCP), which represents tens of thousands of doctors, urged the government to be more “transparent about national stockpiles, particularly for things that are already in short supply or need refrigeration, such as insulin”. Prof Andrew Goddard, the RCP president, said: “Faith in the system will be created by openness and regular updates to trusts and clinicians; this will allow clinicians to reassure patients.” The Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC) has warned medical shortages have increased in recent months.

Generic drugs are usually bought through nationally set tariff prices. However, pharmacies can apply for price concessions under which the NHS will temporarily pay more when the drugs are in short supply. The number of concessions the PSNC applied for went up from 45 in October, to 72 in November and 87 in December. The Guardian has also found evidence some patients are stockpiling drugs, against official guidance. They said they were doing so by ordering drugs from abroad, and by asking their GPs for emergency prescriptions. One diabetic patient has been stockpiling insulin for four months, ordering twice the amount he needs for each of his drugs from the pharmacist.

Robin Hewings, the head of policy at Diabetes UK, backed calls for more transparency from the government about current stock levels to reassure patients. “There is a level of concern that has risen quite a lot [in the last few months] and people with diabetes are talking about stockpiling. The government needs to be more transparent about insulin supplies.”

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Only, not really: “..sales grew by 2.7% last year, compared with a growth rate of 2% in 2017.”

UK Shoppers Rein In Spending As Fears Grow Over Economy (G.)

British consumers reined in their spending in December after splashing out during November on Black Friday promotions, according to official figures that confirmed the tough festive shopping period on the high street. The Office for National Statistics said the quantity of goods bought last month fell by 0.9% compared to November, when Black Friday deals encouraged shoppers to bring forward some of their Christmas spending. All sectors except food and petrol declined on the month, the figures showed, coming after the British Retail Consortium said the key Christmas shopping period had been the worst for retailers since the financial crisis a decade ago.

James Smith, an economist at the City bank ING, said: “After another bumpy week for Brexit, today’s UK retail sales data is a timely reminder that all is not particularly well in the UK economy.” Figures for the three months to December, highlighting the wider trend for consumer spending, showed that the quantity of goods bought dropped by 0.2%. [..] Despite the downturn last month, the latest snapshot showed that retail sales growth for 2018 as a whole was above the level recorded a year earlier. Although significantly below the peak growth rate of 4.7% seen before the Brexit vote in 2016, sales grew by 2.7% last year, compared with a growth rate of 2% in 2017.

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Or does it show that they are more confident? Always a nice puzzle. A popular industry POV: people get deeper in debt because they feel so great.

Rising Credit-Card Use Shows US Consumers Are Strapped (DDMB)

Even though evidence is mounting that the U.S. economy may be soon heading into a recession, there are plenty of analysts who say that the surge in credit card borrowing is a sign of strong confidence among households. That’s hardly the case. In fact, households’ confidence in the future growth of their incomes has been cooling since late last summer, which means borrowers will only reach for what’s in their wallet to compensate for what their paychecks will not cover. Many working adults have no recollection of credit card borrowing not being a mainstay among their financing options. But then, few would be able to identify a Diners Club card, which was a popular brand during the 1980s “yuppie” era when Americans first began to embrace credit card spending in earnest.

These days, consumers are not keen to lean on credit cards, partly due to a cultural and financial shift in the industry. The financial crisis arguably altered households’ views on charging beyond their means. It didn’t hurt that the availability of subprime credit all but disappeared for a few years or that the interest rate on credit cards remained in double-digit territory despite the Federal Reserve’s zero interest rate policy. That said, the idea of frugality re-entered many households’ thinking in the wake of the severe hardship the foreclosure crisis brought to bear on millions of working Americans. Debit cards became the predominant form of plastic used at the checkout.

And yet, consumer credit likely rounded out 2019 at a new $4 trillion milestone as runaway higher educationand car-price inflation coupled with ridiculously looser lending standards pushed households to take on record levels of student loan and auto debt. At roughly $1 trillion, credit cards are but a co-star in a star-studded, full-length feature film. A long history of credit card borrowing suggests that we would have multiples of today’s $1.04 billion in outstanding balances had the growth rate of spending on plastic maintained the headier double-digit paces clocked in the 1980s and 1990s.

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Shares down 13%.

Tesla Cuts 7% Of Workforce, Musk Sees ‘Very Difficult’ Road Ahead (CNBC)

Tesla is cutting its full-time staff headcount by about 7 percent, as it ramps up production of its Model 3 sedans, CEO Elon Musk said Friday. The announcement follows recent cost-cutting measures the company has made in a bid to reduce the price of its products and boost margins. Tesla shares fell 13 percent by the end of trading Friday. In an email to employees, Musk said the company faces a “very difficult” road ahead in its long-term goal to sell affordable renewable energy products, noting the company is younger than other players in the industry. “Tesla will need to make these cuts while increasing the Model 3 production rate and making many manufacturing engineering improvements in the coming months,” Musk said.

“Attempting to build affordable clean energy products at scale necessarily requires extreme effort and relentless creativity, but succeeding in our mission is essential to ensure that the future is good, so we must do everything we can to advance the cause.” The exact number of employees who will be laid off has not been disclosed. However in an October tweet, Musk said Tesla had a staff count of 45,000. If still true today, that would mean 3,150 layoffs. Musk said Friday that Tesla faces “an extremely difficult challenge” in making its electric vehicles and solar products a competitive alternative to traditional vehicles and energy products that rely on fossil fuels.

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Plunging share prices are the last thing Tesla needs.

Tesla Has $920 Million In Debt Coming Due, A Third Of Company’s Cash (CNBC)

Tesla has a billion dollar debt coming due, and it could wipe out nearly a third of the company’s cash if the stock price doesn’t improve. About $920 million in convertible senior notes expires on March 1 at a conversion price of $359.87 per share. But Tesla’s stock hasn’t traded above $359 for weeks. If the shares are about $359.87, then Tesla’s debt converts into Tesla shares. If not, Tesla will have to pay the debt in cash. Tesla reported cash and cash equivalents of $3.37 billion at the end of its September quarter. The company continues to reveal pressure to maintain profitability, and announced Friday it would cut 7 percent of its full-time workforce. Shares fell more than 10 percent Friday following the announcement to trade around $310 per share.

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If only because of the sanctions.

Russia Outshines China To Become World’s 5th Biggest Holder Of Gold (RT)

The Central Bank of Russia reported purchasing 8.5 million troy ounces of gold in January-November 2018. With its 67.6 million ounces of gold Russia is now the world’s fifth largest holder behind the US, Germany, France and Italy. China dropped to sixth place as it reported an increase in gold reserves just once in more than two years – to 59.6 million ounces in December 2018 from 59.2 million ounces in October 2016. Industry sources told Reuters that Western sanctions against Russia lifted the country’s gold buying to record highs in 2018. One of the reasons Russia’s Central Bank was betting on the yellow metal was because it could not be frozen or blacklisted, sources explained.

“It seems that there is an aim to diversify from American assets,” said a source in one of Russia’s gold producers, referring to the Central Bank’s holdings. While purchases of the precious metal by Russia jumped last year the country continued getting rid of US Treasury securities. Earlier this month, Russia’s Central Bank reported that it cut the share of the US dollar in the country’s foreign reserves to a historic low, transferring nearly $100 billion into the euro, the Japanese yen and the Chinese yuan. The step came as a part of a broader state policy on eliminating reliance on the greenback. According to sources, the Central Bank has been purchasing a significant portion of Russia’s domestic gold production, which is also rising.

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As the EU promotes Roundup, this court has the only right attitude, referring to “a precautionary principle in French law.” All GMO crops should be banned because of that principle. The risks are too great, and there’s likely no way back. You can’t put the onus of proof on society at large, Monsanto will have to prove there is no risk or damage at all, not the other way around. Nassim Taleb is the only person I’ve seen who also says this as the most important thing concerning GMO.

French Court Cites Precautionary Principle To Cancel Monsanto Permit (R.)

A French court canceled the license for one of Monsanto’s glyphosate-based weedkillers on Tuesday over safety concerns, placing an immediate ban on Roundup Pro 360 in the latest legal blow to the Bayer-owned business. Germany’s Bayer, which bought Monsanto for $63 billion last year, faces thousands of U.S. lawsuits by people who say its Roundup and Ranger Pro products caused their cancer. A court in Lyon in southeast France ruled that the approval granted by French environment agency ANSES in 2017 for Roundup Pro 360 had failed to take into account potential health risks. Bayer, which said it disagreed with the decision and was considering its legal options, has cited regulatory rulings as well as scientific studies that found glyphosate to be safe.

The firm is appealing a first U.S. court ruling that awarded $78 million in damages to a school groundskeeper from California. “Bayer disagrees with the decision taken by the Administrative Court of Lyon to cancel the marketing authorization for RoundUp Pro 360,” it said in a statement. “This product formulation, like all crop protection products, has been subject to a strict evaluation by the French authorities (ANSES), an independent body and guarantor of the public health security.” The French court said ANSES had not respected a precautionary principle in French law, notably by not conducting a specific evaluation of health risks for Roundup Pro 360.

“Despite the European Union’s approval of the active substance (glyphosate), the court considered that scientific studies and animal experiments showed Roundup Pro 360 … is a potentially carcinogenic product for humans, suspected of being toxic for human reproduction and for aquatic organisms,” the court said in a summary of its ruling. ANSES said it was still examining the court ruling, but that the decision was effective immediately. “As a consequence, the sale, distribution and use of RoundUp Pro 360 are banned as of today,” the agency said in an email.

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Jan 162019
 
 January 16, 2019  Posted by at 10:45 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  11 Responses »


Pablo Picasso Women running on the beach 1922

 

Theresa May Faces No Confidence Vote After Historic 230-Vote Defeat (Ind.)
The People Want A Final Say – Whatever The Papers Say (Ind.)
Market Reaction To Theresa May’s Brexit Defeat Is Over-Optimistic (Coppola)
Expect A Wild Ride For The British Pound – Steve Keen (RT)
EU States Escalate No-Deal Brexit Preparations After May Defeat (G.)
Time For Playing Games On Brexit Over – German Foreign Minister (R.)
China Vows Tax Cuts, More Public Spending To Halt Economic Slowdown (G.)
Rosenstein, DOJ Explore Ways To More Easily Spy On Journalists (Solomon)
Here Is A List Of All The Good Things Trump Did For Russia (MoA)
Russian Security Chief Calls BBC A ‘Fake News Factory’ (RT)
Putin Slams FYROM Name-Change Deal (K.)
Canada Sees No Cancer Risk From Monsanto’s Roundup Weed Killer (RT)
EU Glyphosate Approval Was Based On Plagiarised Monsanto Text (G.)
Immediate Fossil Fuel Phaseout Could Arrest Climate Change (G.)

 

 

It’s either the biggest loss ever, or the biggest since 1924. And still May doesn’t want to step down. Someone must force her. Send her the bill.

Theresa May Faces No Confidence Vote After Historic 230-Vote Defeat (Ind.)

Brexit has been dealt a hammer blow after Theresa May’s plans fell to the biggest ever Commons defeat and Jeremy Corbyn launched a bid to topple her government within 24 hours. Even Downing Street insiders admitted being shocked by the scale of the rout, which sent shockwaves across the English Channel and saw critics brand her deal “dead”. In total, 118 of the prime minister’s own MPs refused to back the withdrawal agreement she spent 19 arduous months negotiating with Brussels. Labour leader Mr Corbyn branded the result “catastrophic” and immediately said he would table a motion of no confidence, which Ms May must win on Wednesday to avoid a general election.

The prime minister will simultaneously begin a desperate scramble to save her deal, meeting senior parliamentarians from across the political spectrum to see what changes she might seek to win support. But sources from both the pro-EU and Eurosceptic wings of the cabinet admitted to The Independent in the aftermath, that a softer Brexit was now a more likely outcome. Ms May’s spinners had briefed that they hoped to limit the number of Tory MPs opposing her to double digits, with many people thinking Conservative opposition would weaken as the big moment approached. But there were gasps as the result was read out – 432 votes against and just 202 for – making it a bigger margin of defeat than the previous comparable loss suffered by Labour’s Ramsay MacDonald in 1924.

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The Independent had two headlines for this piece. The other one was: “Despite the views of the right-wing press, the British people still want a Final Say on Brexit”. Because they’re just one the papers themselves. Also interesting: they talk about “Her Majesty’s Press”. What a curious view of the media that is.

The People Want A Final Say – Whatever The Papers Say (Ind.)

Judging by the polling evidence, a small but consistent majority of people favour a second referendum to resolve the current crisis over Britain’s relationship with Europe. The divergence between this and the house views of most traditional media outlets is quite striking. Of the national titles, only The Independent has given its unequivocal support to such an outcome, although The Guardian has come close with its call for “people’s assemblies” that it admitted could very well lead to a fresh poll. The remainder have either backed May’s deal, with more or less tepidity, or a no deal – with the exception of the Daily Mirror, which is in tune with the Labour leadership’s desire for a general election that probably won’t resolve anything and, as things stand, is unlikely to happen.

The London-centric media is often said to be “out of touch” with the world outside the M25. I’d suggest that the gulf has seldom been as wide as it is today, at least on this issue. Whichever way you look at it, the views of such a substantial portion of the British population have one only one, or perhaps two, outlets in what one might describe as the mainstream media. That could be considered worrying. It surely can’t be a good thing at such a polarised time that such a substantial portion of the population is being ignored by the majority of Her Majesty’s press – even though it is probably true that many if not most readers of the right-leaning titles (including The Sun, the Daily Express, the Daily Mail and the The Daily Telegraph) would, on balance, reject a Final Say referendum on Theresa May‘s Brexit deal.

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“It’s time to buy the pound,” said Deutsche Bank’s analysts..

Market Reaction To Theresa May’s Brexit Defeat Is Over-Optimistic (Coppola)

Theresa May has just suffered the heaviest defeat of any U.K. Prime Minister for a century. Her Brexit deal was resoundingly rejected by the House of Commons. More than twice as many lawmakers voted against the deal as for it, including over a hundred members of her own party. Previous prime ministers that have suffered such humiliation have resigned. But not Mrs. May. Her deal is dead in the water, but she intends to struggle on. Though it is not clear where she goes from here, or even for how long she will survive. Tomorrow, she faces a vote of no confidence. If she loses it, her government will fall. You would think that all this drama would elicit a strongly negative response from markets, wouldn’t you?

A run on the pound, perhaps? After all, May’s previous gaffes and humiliations caused sterling’s exchange rate to fall. Not a bit of it. The pound rose on the news that May’s horrible deal had been resoundingly defeated. On Twitter, Jamie McGeever of Reuters reported that both Deutsche Bank and Nomura were going long sterling. “It’s time to buy the pound,” said Deutsche Bank’s analysts: “Prime Minister May lost tonight’s UK parliamentary vote on her Brexit deal by a larger margin than expected – 432 votes to 202. Notwithstanding, after more than two years since the UK triggered Article 50 to leave the EU and over eighteen months of negotiations, a positive Brexit resolution is finally in sight.”

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Steve doesn’t agree with Deutsche: “In general, I think the pound will be at least 30 percent lower than it had been..”

Expect A Wild Ride For The British Pound – Steve Keen (RT)

As the British Parliament voted down Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit plan on Tuesday, analysts expect more losses for sterling amid uncertainty over how the UK’s eventual withdrawal from the EU will take shape. Professor of Economy, Steve Keen who is the author of Debunking Economics, told RT that it’s hard to say how the vote will affect the British currency but added “definitely, expect a wild ride,” while the markets are “completely dominated with speculation.” “With speculators gambling one can’t actually say whether it will have impact one way or the other,” he said. “In general, I think the pound will be at least 30 percent lower than it had been,” Keen said, explaining “I think it is overvalued and that makes British manufacturing uncompetitive…”

The professor also said that if the break with the European Union happens the pound will fall in value but “overall it won’t be a good thing or a bad thing” because it is already seriously overvalued. The British currency has been sliding since 2008, well before the Brexit referendum. According to Keen, that means that Britain has some other serious economic problems. “The main problem the British have had is that they made a mistake 40 years ago deciding to go with services rather than manufacturing.” He explained that Britain is now running a substantive deficit compared to Germany which is running a gigantic balance of trade surplus. “So, that is the key problem for the British economy and it really has almost nothing to do with Brexit,” Keen said.

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The costs are already running in the many billions. Who will pay, the UK?

EU States Escalate No-Deal Brexit Preparations After May Defeat (G.)

European Union capitals were ramping up their preparations to minimise the chaos and disruption of a possible no-deal Brexit after Theresa May’s plan was crushed by MPs. With 72 days until the UK is due to leave the EU, the Belgian prime minister, Charles Michel, met cabinet ministers on Tuesday to discuss their top priorities for a package of emergency Brexit laws that he wants to present to parliament before the end of February. The Belgian government has told businesses and citizens that a no-deal Brexit could lead to the imposition of up to €2.2bn in extra tariffs on goods and the loss of more than 40,000 jobs. In France, which has already passed its no-deal contingency legislation, the Europe minister, Nathalie Loiseau, stressed that no further concessions could be expected from the bloc.

“It’s up to the British parliament and the British government to have a back-up plan in case,” Loiseau told reporters at the European parliament in Brussels. “It’s no longer up to us – we have given everything we can give.” The Spanish government this week launched an online information service for citizens and businesses, including advice on how to prepare for a no-deal Brexit. It has also drafted a decree enabling it to enact no-deal contingency provisions drawn up by the European commission. [..] The EU’s executive last month unveiled bare-bones plans to keep planes in the air and money flowing should the UK crash out, saying it would take all necessary steps to limit the fallout from the ensuing disruption for its members.

A temporary nine-month regime would allow UK airlines to fly to the continent and back (but not between EU cities), EU banks to clear transactions in the City of London, British trucks to deliver goods into the EU, and vital data to be shared. The bloc can terminate this regime unilaterally. [..] The Netherlands, home to Europe’s largest port in Rotterdam, aims to have hired more than 900 extra customs officials by the end of the year – one-third of them by the time Britain plans to leave the EU on 29 March – as well as 150 vets and other scientists for checks on food, plant and animal products. Along with the Belgians, French and Danish, the Dutch have launched comprehensive Brexit impact assessment schemes allowing companies to analyse their specific no-deal risks based on business sector and relationship with the UK.

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German car exports are down some 10%. They would not like losing UK sales.

Time For Playing Games On Brexit Over – German Foreign Minister (R.)

With the clock ticking ahead of Britain’s scheduled exit from the European Union at the end of March, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said on Wednesday the “time for playing games” was over after London’s rejection of a withdrawal agreement. Maas said further talks would almost certainly be needed after Britain’s parliament voted down the exit deal worked out between London and the bloc over the past two years. “The time for playing games is over,” Maas told Deutschlandfunk radio, adding that the EU would deal “constructively” with any British request to delay the departure date. German economy minister Peter Altmaier said that the EU would look at any fresh proposals London made, but said the substance of the deal was non-negotiable.

But umbrella groups representing German industry, whose cross-border supply chains stand to be hit by the imposition of a hard customs border between Britain and the continent, were less conciliatory. Martin Wansleben, head of the German Chambers of Commerce, warned that the political uncertainty now made planning almost impossible and that German companies were already starting to build inventory in preparation. German auto makers would start asking whether it was worth investing in Britain, he added. “The House of Commons has missed an opportunity to avert a hard Brexit and lay the foundations for close ties to the EU,” said Carl Martin Weicker, head of machine tools association VDMA.

“It is simply irresponsible that the British governing coalition is still trying to reach a unified position 10 weeks before the exit deadline,” he added.

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China’s like Japan: deperate attempts to stimulate domestic demand fail miserably. You can’t force people to consume, and the more you try, the more suspicious they become, causing them to halt spending.

China Vows Tax Cuts, More Public Spending To Halt Economic Slowdown (G.)

China has vowed to take action to support its slowing economy with a package of tax cuts for small businesses and higher public spending. Officials said they would cut taxes “on a larger scale” in order to boost business activity, announced against a backdrop of disappointing industrial production figures and the first drop in car sales for almost three decades. The interventions, designed to soothe concerns among international investors, come after official figures on Monday revealed a 4.4% decline in exports in December – the biggest drop since 2016 – on the back of faltering demand in most of its key markets. Imports also fell by 7.6% as domestic appetite waned.

China has been embroiled in a trade dispute with the US, which has put a handbrake on global trade. Although Beijing and Washington are edging closer to a deal, concerns remain the dispute could be reignited. Financial markets around the world rallied after the announcement from Beijing, with the FTSE 100 closing up more than 40 points and gains on other stock markets elsewhere across Europe. The Dow Jones industrial average had gained about 90 points in afternoon trading in New York. While exact details of the stimulus package are yet to be unveiled, the Chinese finance ministry suggested the measures would include cutting value added tax for some companies, particularly in the manufacturing sector, as well as rebates for other businesses to ward off a more damaging slowdown.

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“Sources close to Whitaker say he will await final judgment but, in recent days, has developed reservations about proceeding with the plan…”

Rosenstein, DOJ Explore Ways To More Easily Spy On Journalists (Solomon)

For months now, the Department of Justice (DOJ) quietly has been working on a revision to its guidelines governing how, when and why prosecutors can obtain the records of journalists, particularly in leak cases. The work has been supervised by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein’s office, especially since former Attorney General Jeff Sessions departed, but is not wrapped up. The effort has the potential to touch off a First Amendment debate with a press corps that already has high degrees of distrust of and disfunction with the Trump administration. Acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker is aware of the effort but has not been given a final recommendation. Sources close to Whitaker say he will await final judgment but, in recent days, has developed reservations about proceeding with the plan.

“After a lengthy period of turmoil and regular criticism from President Trump, DOJ has enjoyed a period of calm normalcy that has put employees’ focus back on their work and not the next tweet. Matt doesn’t want to disrupt that unless a strong legal case can be made,” a source close to the acting AG told me. The current guidelines have their origins back to a time when Bill Clinton was president and Janet Reno was attorney general, long before WikiLeaks was a twinkle in Julian Assange’s eye. They were designed to strike a balance between law enforcement’s investigative interests and the First Amendment rights of reporters.

[..] With Rosenstein signaling last week that he plans to step aside in a few weeks, palace intrigue has risen inside Justice about whether the rule changes will be finished and whether Whitaker might reject them. If not, a process begun under Sessions could drag into the tenure of a new attorney general. Trump has nominated William Barr for the job, which Barr held under President George H.W. Bush three decades earlier. According to my sources, the arguments for changing the rules emanate from the stresses that a massive increase in criminal leak investigations have placed on the DOJ.

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Moon of Alabama has a long list. Check it out.

Here Is A List Of All The Good Things Trump Did For Russia (MoA)

Slate’s Fred Kaplan writes: “The Washington Post’s Greg Miller reported Sunday that President Donald Trump’s confiscation of the translator’s notes from a one-on-one conversation with Russian President Vladimir Putin in 2017 was “unusual.” This is incorrect. It was unprecedented. There is nothing like it in the annals of presidential history.” Not really. Other U.S. leaders held long private meetings with their counterparts without notes being taken. When Richard Nixon met Leonid Brezhnev he did not even bring his own interpreter: “Nixon would meet Brezhnev alone, the only other person in attendance being Viktor Sukhodrev, the Soviet interpreter. “Our first meeting in the Oval Office was private, except for Viktor Sukhodrev, who, as in 1972, acted as translator.” Nixon on Brezhnev’s 1973 visit. RN, p.878 .

Therefore, the only “notes” that would exist would be those of the Soviet interpreter. Not sure he would have time to make notes and translate and, even if he did so, whether those notes would be housed in any US archive. Nixon’s White House office was bugged. There are probably tape recordings of the talks. There might also be recordings of the Trump-Putin talks. At their 1986 Reykjavik summit Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev talked without their notetakers: “Mr. Reagan and Mr. Gorbachev began their second day of talks with a private meeting that had been scheduled to last 15 minutes but ran for nearly 70 minutes, with only interpreters present. They met in a small room in the Soviet Mission, with the Soviet leader seated in a small armchair and Mr. Reagan on a sofa. In the afternoon, they meet alone for a little over 20 minutes and then again for 90 minutes. All told, the two leaders have spent 4 hours and 51 minutes alone, except for interpreters, over the two days here.”

The archives of the Reykjavik talks do not include any notes of those private talks. But, who knows, maybe Nixon and Reagan where also on the Russian payroll, just like Donald Trump is today. Only that Trump is controlled by Putin can explain why the FBI opened a counter-intelligence investigation against Trump (see section three). That the FBI agents involved in the decision were avid haters of Russia and of Trump has surely nothing to do with it. That the opening of a counter-intelligence investigation gave them the legal ability under Obama’s EO12333 to use NSA signal intelligence against Trump is surely irrelevant.

What the FBI people really were concerned about is Trump’s public record of favoring Russia at each and every corner. Trump obviously wants better diplomatic relations with Russia. He is reluctant to counter its military might. He is doing his best to make it richer. Just consider the headlines below. With all those good things Trump did for Putin, intense suspicions of Russian influence over him is surely justified.

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“Britain is not alone in its Russophobic policy. Except the nations with the same mindset mostly are in Eastern Europe.”

Russian Security Chief Calls BBC A ‘Fake News Factory’ (RT)

Britain is a former empire trying to stay relevant in European affairs by becoming an anti-Russian champion, Nikolai Patrushev, a senior Russian security official, believes. British people see through this ruse, he said. Patrushev, the former head of the security service FSB, who currently chairs the Russian national security council, painted a highly unfavorable picture of modern Britain in an interview with Rossiyskaya Gazeta. He said the British establishment still cannot get over their country’s rapid transition from the world’s most-powerful empire to a nation subjugated by its former colony, the United States. Today the British leadership learns about the most important decisions taken in the White House from the media. Britain cannot remain even the leader of the Old World.

The continental Europe is tired of London’s arrogant one-sided policy, its outdated habit of trying to dictate terms to others. The Russian official said Britain is trying to preserve its diminishing influence by becoming Europe’s champion in an anti-Russian crusade, based on supposed common European values. This foundation however is false, Patrushev said. “Britain poses as a model democracy. But it’s not clear how it complies with the strict censorship in the British media, for example,” he said. “The BBC has pretty much become a fake news factory that the Britons themselves take with a smile,” Patrushev added. “Admittedly, Britain is not alone in its Russophobic policy. Except the nations with the same mindset mostly are in Eastern Europe.”

Read more …

The deal is designed to let FYROM enter NATO. Greek PM Tsipras has lost his coalition partner recently over it, and called a confidence vote this week. All for NATO.

Putin Slams FYROM Name-Change Deal (K.)

Russian President Vladimir Putin has criticized the name deal between Greece and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) suggesting it is part of a campaign to increase western influence in the Balkan region. In an interview with Serbia’s Vecernje Novosti newspaper Tuesday ahead of his scheduled visit to the country later this week, Putin said that the so-called Prespes accord had been enforced from outside against popular will in a bid to draw the country into the NATO military alliance. In the same interview, the Russian president said the United States were destabilizing the Balkan peninsula by “asserting their dominant role” in the region.

Also on Tuesday, Moscow dismissed Greece’s accusation that it was meddling in its internal affairs but insisted it will express its opinion about the Prespes agreement to the United Nations Security Council. “We are in no way meddling in Greece’s internal affairs, but Russia will be expressing its point of view on the issues within the competence of the UN Security Council,” said Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko. Grushko said the Russian Foreign Ministry statement was a fundamental assessment of “how negotiations [between Athens and Skopje] had proceeded.” He said the West’s interference was unprecedented and was aimed at achieving quite clear geopolitical goals.

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Canada is for sale. And Monsanto has plenty cash.

Canada Sees No Cancer Risk From Monsanto’s Roundup Weed Killer (RT)

Canadian farmers will continue using glyphosate after Health Canada concluded that the active ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup weed killer poses no human risks. The federal agency dismissed eight notices of objection and assertions made in the so-called Monsanto Papers in 2017. “After a thorough scientific review, we have concluded that the concerns raised by the objectors could not be scientifically supported when considering the entire body of relevant data. The objections raised did not create doubt or concern regarding the scientific basis for the 2017 re-evaluation decision for glyphosate,” Health Canada said in a press release.

The 2017 re-evaluation determined that glyphosate is not genotoxic and is unlikely to pose a human cancer risk. It also determined that dietary exposure associated with the use of glyphosate is not expected to pose a risk of concern to human health. When used according to revised label directions, glyphosate products are not expected to pose risks of concern to the environment, according to the study. Health Canada said it has selected a group of 20 of its own scientists who were not involved in the 2017 decision to evaluate the eight objections and the concerns raised publicly around glyphosate. The agency said its scientists “left no stone unturned in conducting” the review.

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What a surprise.

EU Glyphosate Approval Was Based On Plagiarised Monsanto Text (G.)

EU regulators based a decision to relicense the controversial weedkiller glyphosate on an assessment plagiarised from industry reports, according to a report for the European parliament. A crossparty group of MEPs commissioned an investigation into claims, revealed by the Guardian, that Germany’s Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) copy-and-pasted tracts from Monsanto studies. The study’s findings have been released hours before a parliamentary vote on tightening independent scrutiny of the pesticides approvals process. The authors said they found “clear evidence of BfR’s deliberate pretence of an independent assessment, whereas in reality the authority was only echoing the industry applicants’ assessment.”

Molly Scott Cato, a Green MEP, said the scale of alleged plagiarism by the BfR authors shown by the new paper was “extremely alarming”. “This helps explain why the World Health Organization assessment on glyphosate as a probable human carcinogen was so at odds with EU assessors, who awarded this toxic pesticide a clean bill of health, brushing off warnings of its dangers,” she said. The study found plagiarism in 50.1% of the chapters assessing published studies on health risks – including whole paragraphs and entire pages of text. The European Food Safety Authority (Efsa), based its recommendation that glyphosate was safe for public use on the BfR’s assessment.

Read more …

But are we ready for no economy?

Immediate Fossil Fuel Phaseout Could Arrest Climate Change (G.)

Climate change could be kept in check if a phaseout of all fossil fuel infrastructure were to begin immediately, according to research. It shows that meeting the internationally agreed aspiration of keeping global warming to less than 1.5C above pre-industrial levels is still possible. The scientists say it is therefore the choices being made by global society, not physics, which is the obstacle to meeting the goal. The study found that if all fossil fuel infrastructure – power plants, factories, vehicles, ships and planes – from now on are replaced by zero-carbon alternatives at the end of their useful lives, there is a 64% chance of staying under 1.5C.

In October, the IPCC said the difference between 1.5C of warming and the earlier international target of 2C was a significantly lower risk of drought, floods, heatwaves and poverty for hundreds of millions of people. Christopher Smith, of the University of Leeds, who led the research, said: “It’s good news from a geophysical point of view. But on the other side of the coin, the [immediate fossil fuel phaseout] is really at the limit of what we could possibly do. We are basically saying we can’t build anything now that emits fossil fuels.” Nicholas Stern, of the London School of Economics, who was not part of the research team, said: “We are rapidly approaching the end of the age of fossil fuels. This study confirms that all new energy infrastructure must be sustainable from now on if we are to avoid locking in commitments to emissions that would lead to the world exceeding the goals of the Paris agreement.”

[..] The study, published in the journal Nature Communications, used computer models to estimate by how much global temperatures would rise if a fossil fuel infrastructure phaseout began immediately. The lifespan for power plants was set at 40 years, cars an average of 15 years and planes 26 years. The work also assumes a rapid end to beef and dairy consumption, which is responsible for significant global emissions. In this scenario, the models suggest carbon emissions would decline to zero over the next four decades and there would be a 66% chance of the global temperature rise remaining below 1.5C. If the phaseout does not begin until 2030, the chance is 33%.

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Jan 132019
 


Vincent van Gogh Field with Flowers near Arles 1888

 

Venture Capital Spending Hit All-Time High In 2018 In Tech Bubble 2.0 (Colombo)
Trump Vents Fury Over Russia Stories (G.)
House Democrats Eye Reported FBI Probe Of Trump (R.)
Schumer To Force Vote On US Decision To Lift Sanctions On Russia Firms (R.)
The Manafort Revelation Is Not a Smoking Gun (Maté)
What Trump’s Syrian Withdrawal Really Reveals (Stephen Cohen)
Republican Baby Boomers More Likely To Share Fake News On Facebook (MW)
May Warns Of Catastrophe If Lawmakers Don’t Back Brexit Deal (R.)
Labour Set To Call Vote To Topple Theresa May’s Government (G.)
Police Use Water Cannon And Teargas On Paris Protesters (G.)
The Era Of Easy Recycling May Be Coming To An End (538)

 

 

All politics today, with one finance story (and one on recycling). Expect venture capital to plunge in 2019.

Venture Capital Spending Hit All-Time High In 2018 In Tech Bubble 2.0 (Colombo)

Though most people look at record VC spending as a sign of a strong, healthy economy, my research has found that the current VC boom is the result of another tech bubble that inflated due to the Federal Reserves ultra-stimulative monetary policies of the past decade. Unfortunately, this tech bubble is going to end just like the late-1990s dotcom bubble did – in another disastrous bust. The chart below shows the monthly count of global VC deals that raised $100 million or more since 2007. According to this chart, a new “unicorn” startup was born every four days in 2018.

The chart below shows the Nasdaq Composite Index and the two bubbles that formed in it in the past two decades. Lofty tech stock prices and valuations encourage the tech startup bubble because publicly traded tech companies have more buying power with which to acquire tech startups and because they allow startups to IPO at very high valuations.

In the chart below, I compared the monthly global VC deals chart to the Nasdaq Composite Index and they line up perfectly. Surges in the Nasdaq lead to surges in VC deals, while lulls or declines in the Nasdaq lead to lulls or declines in VC deals.

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The FBI has to be investigated over this (why was the probe launched?). But no-one has the power to do so.

Trump Vents Fury Over Russia Stories (G.)

Donald Trump has strongly denied the stunning claim that he was secretly working on behalf of Russia and again threatened to declare a national emergency to fund a border wall. In 20-minute live phone interview with Fox News on Saturday night, he described as an “insult” the New York Times story that alleged the FBI launched an investigation into whether the he was acting as a Russian asset, against his own country’s interests. Trump said the story, which claimed the investigation opened after Trump fired the FBI director James Comey in May 2017, was “the most insulting article ever written”. “If you read the article you’ll see that they found absolutely nothing,” he said during the Fox News interview. “I think [the story] was a great insult and the New York Times is a disaster of a paper. It’s a very horrible thing they said.”

Citing anonymous sources, the Times said the investigation was part counterintelligence, to determine whether Trump was knowingly or unknowingly working for Moscow and posed a threat to national security. It was also part criminal, to ascertain whether Trump’s dismissal of Comey constituted obstruction of justice. The FBI effort was soon absorbed into the special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election and alleged collusion between Trump’s campaign and Moscow, the Times reported, adding that it was unclear if the counterintelligence aspect is still being pursued. The president again called Comey a “liar” and claimed the entire Russia investigation was a “terrible hoax”. “Everybody knows it. It’s really a shame because it takes time; it takes effort. Everybody knows there’s no collusion,” he said.

[..] Trump’s warm relationship with the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, has long set alarm bells ringing. The day after firing Comey, he hosted Russia’s foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, in the Oval Office – and disclosed intelligence from an Israeli counterterrorism operation. At a summit in Helsinki last summer, Trump appeared to side with Putin over his own intelligence agencies on the question of election interference. On Saturday, the Washington Post reported that Trump took the notes from of a 2017 meeting with Putin in Hamburg from his own interpreter. Citing current and former US officials, the paper also said Trump instructed the linguist not to discuss what had transpired with other administration officials. Asked why he would not release the conversations, Trump said: “I would. I don’t care … I’m not keeping anything under wraps. I couldn’t care less.”

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Sometimes you think they actually believe their Putin as bogeymen tales. But that can’t be true. They know as well as we do that there’s never been any proof, and you can’t base policy on innuendo alone. That would be dangerous.

House Democrats Eye Reported FBI Probe Of Trump (R.)

A U.S. House of Representatives committee will look into a newspaper report that the FBI investigated whether President Donald Trump has been working on behalf of Russia, against U.S. interests, the panel’s Democratic chairman said on Saturday. The New York Times reported that the probe began in the days after Trump fired James Comey as director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation in May 2017 and said the agency’s counterintelligence investigators had to consider whether Trump’s actions constituted a possible threat to national security. Trump rejected the Times piece in a late Saturday night interview on Fox News as “the most insulting article I’ve ever had written” and lashed out at Comey and the FBI in half a dozen tweets.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler said his panel “will take steps to better understand both the president’s actions and the FBI’s response to that behavior” in coming weeks. He also said lawmakers would seek to protect investigators from the president’s “increasingly unhinged attacks.” “There is no reason to doubt the seriousness or professionalism of the FBI, as the president did in reaction to this story,” Nadler, a New York Democrat, said in a statement. “We have learned from this reporting that, even in the earliest days of the Trump administration, the president’s behavior was so erratic and so concerning that the FBI felt compelled to do the unprecedented – open a counterintelligence investigation into a sitting president,” Nadler said.

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff said he could not comment on the specifics of the report, but said his committee would press ahead with its probe of Trump’s contacts with Russia. “Counterintelligence concerns about those associated with the Trump campaign, including the president himself, have been at the heart of our investigation since the beginning,” said Schiff, a California Democrat. Schiff said meetings, contacts and communications between Trump associates and Russians, as well as “the web of lies about those interactions, and the president’s own statements and actions,” have heightened the need to follow the evidence where it leads.

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Schumer here moves on the basis of a collusion-themed link between Manafort and Deripaska.

But the article after this one says: “The Virginia judge who presided over Manafort’s first trial said the charges against him “manifestly don’t have anything to do with the [2016] campaign or with Russian collusion.” The collusion probe, the DC judge in Manafort’s second trial concurred, was “wholly irrelevant” to these charges.”

Schumer To Force Vote On US Decision To Lift Sanctions On Russia Firms (R.)

U.S. Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer said on Saturday he will force a vote soon on a resolution to disapprove the Trump administration’s decision to relax sanctions on three Russian companies connected to oligarch Oleg Deripaska. “I have concluded that the Treasury Department’s proposal is flawed and fails to sufficiently limit Oleg Deripaska’s control and influence of these companies and the Senate should move to block this misguided effort by the Trump Administration and keep these sanctions in place,” Schumer said in a news release.

The U.S. Treasury announced on Dec. 20 that it would lift sanctions imposed in April on the core businesses of Deripaska, including aluminum giant Rusal its parent En+ and power firm EuroSibEnergo, watering down the toughest penalties imposed since Moscow’s 2014 annexation of Crimea. After lobbying by European governments that followed the imposition of sanctions, Washington postponed enforcement of the sanctions and started talks with Deripaska’s team on removing Rusal and En+ from the blacklist if he ceded control of Rusal. The businessman, who has close ties to the Kremlin, also had ties with Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign manager, documents have showed.

An FBI agent said in an affidavit attached to a 2017 search warrant unsealed earlier this year that he had reviewed tax returns for a company controlled by Manafort and his wife that showed a $10 million loan from a Russian lender identified as Deripaska. On Thursday, U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin insisted that the Trump administration would keep tight control on companies linked to Deripaska, despite the decision to ease restrictions. Mnuchin said the firms would face consequences including the reimposition of sanctions if they failed to comply with the terms. Schumer said given Deripaska’s potential involvement with Manafort, and since special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Trump’s ties with Russia has not yet concluded, “It’s all the more reason these sanctions must remain in place.”

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It’s a shame I don’t have more speace for Aaron Maté’s piece. Click the link and read.

@yashalevine on Twitter about Kilimnik: “Yep, the supposed Russian intelligence asset linking Trump through Manafort to the Kremlin spent a decade on the payroll of a CIA cutout meddling in Russian politics. “

The Manafort Revelation Is Not a Smoking Gun (Maté)

Partisans of the theory that Donald Trump conspired with the Kremlin to win the 2016 election believe that they have found their smoking gun. On Tuesday, defense attorneys inadvertently revealed that special counsel Robert Mueller has claimed that former Trump-campaign chairman Paul Manafort lied to prosecutors about sharing polling data with a Russian associate. Now we’re being told that the revelation “is the closest thing we have seen to collusion,” (former FBI agent Clint Watts), “makes the no-collusion scenario even more remote,” (New York magazine’s Jonathan Chait), and, “effectively end[s] the debate about whether there was ‘collusion.’” (Talking Points Memo’s Josh Marshall). But like prior developments in the Mueller probe that sparked similar declarations, the latest information about Manafort is hardly proof of collusion.

According to an accidentally unredacted passage, Mueller believes that Manafort “lied about sharing polling data…related to the 2016 presidential campaign,” with Konstantin Kilimnik, a Russian national who worked as Manafort’s fixer and translator in Ukraine. Manafort’s employment of Kilimnik has fueled speculation because Mueller has stated that Kilimnik has “ties to a Russian intelligence service and had such ties in 2016.”Yet Mueller’s only references that Kilmnik has Kremlin “ties” came in two court filings in 2017 and 2018, and it’s not clear what Mueller meant in either case. In April 2018, Manafort’s attorneys told a Virginia judge that they have made “multiple discovery requests” seeking any contacts between Manafort and “Russian intelligence officials,” but that the special counsel informed them that “there are no materials responsive to [those] requests.”

Kilimnik insists that he has “no relation to the Russian or any other intelligence service.” According to a lengthy profile in The Atlantic, “insinuations” that Kilimnik has worked for Russian intelligence during his years in Ukraine “were never backed by more than a smattering of circumstantial evidence.” All of this has been lost on US media outlets, who routinely portray Kilimnik as a “Russian operative” or an “alleged Russian spy.” [..] Rather than imagining it as part of some grand Trump-Russia conspiracy, there’s a more plausible explanation for why Manafort wanted public polling data to be forwarded to Ukrainian oligarchs. Manafort was heavily in debt when he joined Trump’s team. Being able to show former Ukrainian clients “that he was managing a winning candidate,” the Times noted, “would help [Manafort] collect money he claimed to be owed for his work on behalf of the Ukrainian parties.”

All of this highlights another inconvenient fact about Mueller’s case against Manafort: It is not about Russia, but about tax, bank, and lobbying violations stemming from his time in Ukraine. The Virginia judge who presided over Manafort’s first trial said the charges against him “manifestly don’t have anything to do with the [2016] campaign or with Russian collusion.” The collusion probe, the DC judge in Manafort’s second trial concurred, was “wholly irrelevant” to these charges.

Read more …

And what goes for Aaron Maté’s piece is also valid for Stephen Cohen. Worth reading the whole thing.

What Trump’s Syrian Withdrawal Really Reveals (Stephen Cohen)

First, no foreign-policy initiative undertaken by President Trump, however wise it may be in regard to US national interests, will be accepted by that establishment. Any prominent political figure who does so will promptly and falsely be branded, in the malign spirit of Russiagate, as “pro-Putin,” or, as was Senator Rand Paul, arguably the only foreign-policy statesman in the senate today, “an isolationist.” This is unprecedented in modern American history. Not even Richard Nixon was subject to such establishment constraints on his ability to conduct national-security policy during the Watergate scandals.

Second, not surprisingly, the condemnations of Trump’s decision are infused with escalating, but still unproven, Russiagate allegations of the president’s “collusion” with the Kremlin. Thus, equally predictably, the Times finds a Moscow source to say, of the withdrawals, “Trump is God’s gift that keeps on giving” to Putin. (In fact, it is not clear that the Kremlin is eager to see the United States withdraw from either Syria or Afghanistan, as this would leave Russia alone with what it regards as common terrorist enemies.)

Closer to home, there is the newly reelected Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, who, when asked about Trump’s policies and Russian President Putin, told MSNBC’s Joy Reid: “I think that the president’s relationship with thugs all over the world is appalling. Vladimir Putin, really? Really? I think it’s dangerous.” By this “leadership” reasoning, Trump should be the first US president since FDR to have no “relationship” whatsoever with a Kremlin leader. And to the extent that Pelosi speaks for the Democratic Party, it can no longer be considered a party of American national security.

But, third, something larger than even anti-Trumpism plays a major role in condemnations of the president’s withdrawal decisions: imperial thinking about America’s rightful role in the world. Euphemisms abound, but, if not an entreaty to American empire, what else could the New York Times’ David Sanger mean when he writes of a “world order that the United States has led for the 73 years since World War II,” and complains that Trump is reducing “the global footprint needed to keep that order together”? Or when President Obama’s national-security adviser Susan Rice bemoans Trump’s failures in “preserving American global leadership,” which a Times lead editorial insists is an “imperative”?

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The news about fake news has itself become fake news.

Republican Baby Boomers More Likely To Share Fake News On Facebook (MW)

Social media doesn’t help people differentiate what is real from what is fake, but the phrase “fake news” has been used by social scientists to describe fictional articles online and perhaps more famously by President Donald Trump, who uses it as a cudgel against mainstream media outlets. Facebook, meanwhile, struggles to stem the flow of fake news and erroneous memes, though Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg has said the world’s biggest social-media site is making progress in dealing with the problem. Trump’s relationship with the media has been acrimonious from the moment he embarked on his campaign for president.

Since then he has not only labeled as “fake” news outlets that have reported critically on his administration but described CNN, NBC, ABC, CBS and the New York Times as “the enemy of the American people.” The good news: Most Facebook users did not share any fake news articles during the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign, according to a study released Wednesday, but the small number who did were mostly Republican Americans over the age of 65. The findings suggest the need for “renewed attention” to educate “particular vulnerable individuals,” such as aging baby boomers, about fake news or misleading information that appears to resemble a fact-checked news article published by a legitimate and fact-based media outlet, researchers said.

[..] To shed light on the issue in the latest study of which users were more likely to share misleading facts on Facebook during the 2016 presidential election, Andrew Guess, an associate professor at Princeton University, and his colleagues disseminated an online survey to 3,500 people in three waves throughout the 2016 campaign. Of the respondents, 1,331 in the initial wave agreed to share their Facebook profile data, which allowed researchers to analyze the age and political affiliations of those people who were more likely to spread fake news.

The results showed that 90% of these users actually did not share misleading or fake articles and only 8.5% shared one or more fake news articles. A plurality, 18%, of the Facebook users who shared the fake stories were both self-identified Republicans and over the age of 65, the authors concluded, and these individuals shared nearly seven times as many fake news articles as respondents in the youngest age group, ranging in age from 18 to 29.

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Catastrophe is inevitable for May.

May Warns Of Catastrophe If Lawmakers Don’t Back Brexit Deal (R.)

British Prime Minister Theresa May has warned lawmakers that failure to back her plan to leave the European Union would be catastrophic for Britain, in a plea for support two days ahead of a vote in parliament that she is expected to lose. Lawmakers are set to vote on May’s Brexit deal on Tuesday, after she shelved plans for a vote in December when it became clear that not enough lawmakers from her own party or others would back the deal she agreed with Brussels. May looks little closer to securing the support she needs, but writing in the Sunday Express she said lawmakers must not let down the people who voted for Brexit.

“Doing so would be a catastrophic and unforgivable breach of trust in our democracy,” May said. “So my message to Parliament this weekend is simple: it is time to forget the games and do what is right for our country.” On Friday, her foreign minister Jeremy Hunt said Brexit might not happen at all if May’s deal was defeated. Britain, the world’s fifth largest economy, is scheduled to quit the European Union on March 29. The Sunday Times reported that rebel lawmakers were planning to wrest control of the legislative agenda away from May next week with a view to suspending or delaying Brexit, citing a senior government source.

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Way too late.

Labour Set To Call Vote To Topple Theresa May’s Government (G.)

Labour MPs have been told to prepare for Jeremy Corbyn to table a dramatic and immediate vote of no confidence in Theresa May’s government as early as Tuesday evening in an attempt to force a general election if – as expected – she suffers a heavy defeat this week on her Brexit deal. Messages have been sent to Labour MPs, even those who are unwell, to ensure their presence both for the “meaningful vote” on the prime minister’s Brexit blueprint on Tuesday and the following day. Labour whips have told MPs the no-confidence vote is likely to be tabled within hours of a government loss, with the actual vote taking place on Wednesday.

The news comes before what promises to be one of the most tumultuous 24 hours in recent parliamentary history in which, barring another delay, May will put her Brexit deal to parliament despite deep and widespread opposition across the Commons, including from many MPs inside her own party. A senior shadow cabinet member said: “There is now recognition that we cannot wait any longer. If May goes down to defeat and she does not resign and call an election, this is the moment we have to act.” Senior Tories said on Saturday that they could not see how the prime minister could win the meaningful vote “in any circumstances” and that a defeat by less than 100 would now be regarded as the best she could hope for.

But even if she suffered a loss of closer to 200, which many Tories fear could be the case, Conservative MPs and ministers still expect her to stagger on and seek to bring an improved offer back to the Commons for a further vote within weeks.

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The number of protesters is increasing rapidly again.

Police Use Water Cannon And Teargas On Paris Protesters (G.)

Gilets jaunes protesters engaged in a ninth weekend of protests all over France on Saturday as the president, Emmanuel Macron, prepared to stake his political future on an open letter to the French people and a national debate. Officials said that at least 84,000 demonstrators turned out across France, thousands more than last weekend, with about 8,000 of those in Paris where protests passed “without serious incident”. Gilets jaunes – named after the hi-vis yellow vests French motorists must carry in their vehicles – said the number was higher but did not give a figure. After the violence of previous weeks, the government put on a show of strength, deploying 80,000 police officers nationwide and about 7,000 in Paris.

[..] Macron has attempted to take the sting out of the protests by announcing a “great national debate” to sound out the public on four themes: taxation, state institutions, democracy and citizenship, but just days before the consultation is due to begin on Tuesday, there is still confusion over how it will be carried out. The president will publish an open letter to the French people on Monday to “explain what I intend to do”. He said the debate was “a vital and very useful moment for our country”. “It’s a great opportunity and everyone must take it … I want a real debate,” he said.

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When are we going to stop producing the stuff that needs recycling?

The Era Of Easy Recycling May Be Coming To An End (538)

On average, about 25 percent of the stuff we try to recycle is too contaminated to go anywhere but the landfill, according to the National Waste and Recycling Association, a trade group. Just a decade ago, the contamination rate was closer to 7 percent, according to the association. And that problem has only compounded in the last year, as China stopped importing “dirty” recyclable material that, in many cases, has found no other buyer. Americans love convenient recycling, but convenient recycling increasingly does not love us. Waste experts call the system of dumping all the recyclables into one bin “single-stream recycling.” It’s popular.

But the cost-benefit math of it has changed. The benefit — more participation and thus more material put forward for recycling — may have been overtaken by the cost — unrecyclable recyclables. On average, about 25 percent of the stuff we try to recycle is too contaminated to go anywhere but the landfill, according to the National Waste and Recycling Association, a trade group. Just a decade ago, the contamination rate was closer to 7 percent, according to the association. And that problem has only compounded in the last year, as China stopped importing “dirty” recyclable material that, in many cases, has found no other buyer.

Most recycling programs in the United States are now single stream. Between 2005 and 2014, these programs went from covering 29 percent of American communities to 80 percent, according to a survey conducted by the American Forest and Paper Association. The popularity makes sense given that single-stream is convenient and a full 66 percent of people surveyed by Harris Poll last October said that they wouldn’t recycle at all if it wasn’t easy to do. Some experts have credited single stream with large increases in the amount of material recycled. Studies have shown that people choose to put more stuff out on the curb for recycling when they have a single-sort system. And the growth of single-stream recycling tracks with the growth of recycling overall in this country. But it also pretty closely tracks with skyrocketing contamination rates.

Read more …

Dec 282018
 
 December 28, 2018  Posted by at 10:33 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  5 Responses »


Berthe Morisot After luncheon1881

 

Investors Fear Historic Market Rebound Was Just A ‘Wicked Bear Trap’ (MW)
US Stocks Follow Record-Breaking Rise With Day Of Wild Swings (G.)
VIX Is About To Do Something It Hasn’t Done Since 2011 (MW)
Watch Out When Men Of War Come To The Rescue (Fisk)
Giuliani: Mueller Must Be Investigated For Destruction Of FBI Evidence (Hill)
Donald Trump ‘Worst Perpetrator’ Of Fake News: UN Special Rapporteur (Pol.eu)
Macron ‘Lost Authority’ After Caving To Yellow Jackets, Says Oettinger (Pol.eu)
Corbyn Wants May To Recall MPs Early Over Critical Brexit Vote (Ind.)
Brexit’s Aura Of Inevitability Is Vanishing (Kaletsky)
Turning Brexit Into a Celebration of Democracy (Varoufakis)
Crime and Punishment in an Age of the Jungle (Vallianatos)

 

 

Catchy, but A Christmas Carol might be a better example. ‘Investors’ believe the ghosts are real, just like they believe markets are real. Read yesterday’s 2019: Zombie Markets Before The Fall to understand why that is nonsense.

Investors Are Speechless: “It’s Like Watching Pulp Fiction” (ZH)

With market action becoming increasingly surreal and the panicked, vertigo-inducing bear market rallies (spawned by a record $64 billion pension fund reallocation into stocks in a historically illiquid market) reminiscent of the chaos observed at the depths of the financial crisis, it is only appropriate that some of the quotes Bloomberg picked for its daily wrap piece which commemorated the biggest intraday reversal since 2010, be just as surreal. “Investors are becoming desensitized,” Bryce Doty, SVP at Sit Investment Associates, told Bloomberg, then continued the verbal poetry: “It’s like watching ‘Pulp Fiction.’ Halfway through, the violence doesn’t even bother you anymore.”

He’s right, although whereas the market “violence” in past weeks was one directional, this week it has developed a twist to trap both the bulls and bears, and while the latest Dow swing (of nearly 1000 points) was only slightly bigger than the average up-and-down move last week, back then equities were merely tumbling, now it tends to drop early in the day then soar in afternoon trading. So fast forwarding to the post-Christmas chaos – which this website explicitly warned about when last Friday we said to “Brace For Seismic Volatility” – strategists are starting to ask: if days like these are now normal, is there a context in which the whole three-month rout starts to feel routine?

There are the optimists like Jim Kelleher, director of research at Argus Research, who said market turmoil that happens when the economy is holding up reminds him of past stock declines that ended gently. Unless evidence emerges of deep global growth erosion, what’s going on now “will prove to be shorter and more shallow than the declines experienced in ‘classic’ bear markets.” Others are not so sure: “Investors are wondering if this will be a crash,” said Dave Campbell, a principal at San Francisco’s BOS, who nonetheless still managed to put a favorable spin on events.

“The risks are there, but they’re always there. They’re more heightened but it’s not the most likely outcome. The economy continues to grow – maybe a little more slowly – but next year markets will have hit their lows and we’ll be on the rebound.” Then there are those who echo what we asked yesterday, namely if this is only a bear market rally, although granted a very furious one: as Bloomberg writes in its second end of day wrap, “on the surface, the rally is good news for investors searching for a bottom after a three-month sell-off sent the S&P 500 to the brink of a bear market. But days like this are rarely good omens.”

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What’s happening is much more profound than bear markets.

Investors Fear Historic Market Rebound Was Just A ‘Wicked Bear Trap’ (MW)

It’s been a rough three months, and a particularly difficult December, for stocks, however. The Nasdaq is in a bear market while the Dow and S&P 500 are solidly in correction territory and nursing hefty December losses and year-to-date declines. Some market watchers find big bounces in such an environment less than convincing. Russ Mould, investment director at AJ Bell, offered up the table below in a Thursday note. It takes a look back at the 20 biggest one-day percentage gains for the S&P 500 going back to 1970, a stretch that includes nearly 12,800 trading days.

[..] Bulls can take encouragement from the fact that three of the 17 other days that saw an advance of 5% or more came immediately in the aftermath of the October 1987 crash, “when buying did prove a good plan,” while two more came in March 2009, when the S&P 500 hit bottom and began its current bull run. But here’s the rub: Eight of those gains of 5% or more came during the 2007-09 bear market and three more occurred during the downturn of 2000-03, “to suggest there is still a risk that this year’s Boxing Day bonanza could be no more than a wicked bear trap set to lure investors into more trouble,” Mould wrote ahead of Thursday’s open, saying that traders and investors “will be looking out for a couple of further definitive signals before they decide it really is time to buy on the dips following this year’s Christmas selloff.”

Indeed, market veterans warn that massive, one-day rallies are often more characteristic of downturns, occurring as selloffs lead to significantly oversold technical conditions that leave markets ripe for short covering only to give way to renewed selling once the frenzy of forced buying is exhausted. Investors who short a stock are essentially betting that its price will fall by first borrowing the shares, but those traders can be forced to buy shares back if prices suddenly swing higher, which, in turn, can amplify price swings.

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When is all this cheap money going to bail out?

US Stocks Follow Record-Breaking Rise With Day Of Wild Swings (G.)

US stock markets seesawed again on Thursday as a record-breaking day of gains gave way to selling once again before rising again in late trading. By lunchtime all the major US markets were in the red, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average down 1.4%, the S&P 500 losing 1.5% and the Nasdaq off 1.9%. But most US markets ended the day in the black with the Dow up 1.13%, the S&P adding 0.85% and the Nasdaq 0.38%. After a series of often wild swings the US stock markets are still on course to end the year in bear market territory – triggered when markets fall 20% from their most recent high. A bear market would be the first in close to a decade.

Michael Antonelli, managing director, institutional sales trading at Robert W Baird in Milwaukee, said he expected more dramatic days aheads. “There’s only two more sessions left before the end of the year. I would expect volatility to reign. It’s dug in like a tick,” he said. Stocks had fallen for four consecutive days through Monday. Wednesday’s rally – with the Dow adding close to 5% and a record 1,080 points – could have signaled a turning point. Markets closed up in Japan and Australia but European markets sank again on Thursday, with the FTSE closing down 1.5% in London, sinking to it’s lowest level since July 2016 (a month after the Brexit vote). Germany’s DAX closed down 2.3% and France’s CAC fell 0.6%

Stock markets have become increasingly volatile in recent months and recorded both record losses and record gains this week. The Dow Jones plummeted 653 points on Monday, capping its worst week in a decade and marking its “worst day of Christmas Eve trading ever”.

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The low VIX shows you how out of touch the financial world is. There can be only one reason for it: the Fed.

VIX Is About To Do Something It Hasn’t Done Since 2011 (MW)

It shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone paying attention that stock-market volatility is on the rise. But here’s a statistic that underlines the phenomenon. The Cboe Volatility Index, commonly known as the VIX and often, if not sometimes derisively, referred to as Wall Street’s fear gauge, was on track Thursday to close above 30 for the fourth day in a row. The index, an options-based measure of expected volatility over the coming 30-day period, traded at 32.92 in recent action, up 2.51 points. According to data compiled by Dow Jones Market Data, that would be the longest streak since a 14-day run that ended in November 2011, surpassing a three-day period seen in August 2015. The index has a long-term average near 20.

It’s certainly been a week of whipsaw trading for investors. The S&P 500, Dow Jones Industrial Average and Nasdaq Composite all falling more than 2% in Monday’s holiday-abbreviated session to post the worst Christmas Eve performance in Wall Street history, only to roar back on Wednesday to more than reverse those declines as the S&P and Dow jumped 5% each and the Nasdaq gained 5.8%. On Thursday, stocks were back under pressure, with the Dow giving up more than half of the previous day’s 1,086-point gain.

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Robert Fisk is done. Comparing Putin to Hitler on the brink of 2019 is all we need to know. BTW, Mattis DID consider running.

Watch Out When Men Of War Come To The Rescue (Fisk)

When a general popularly known as James “Mad Dog” Mattis abandons a really mad American president, you know something has fallen off the edge in Washington. Since the Roman empire, formerly loyal military chiefs have fled crackpot leaders, and Mattis’s retreat from the White House might have the smell of de Gaulle and Petain about it. De Gaulle was confronted by an immensely powerful hero of the people – the Lion of Verdun – who was, in his dotage, about to shrug off the sacred alliance with Britain for Nazi collaboration (for which, I suppose, read Putin’s Russia). The decision was made to have nothing to do with Petain, or what Mattis now refers to as “malign actors”. De Gaulle would lead Free France instead.

Mattis has no such ambitions – not yet, at any rate – although there are plenty of Lavals and Weygands waiting to see if Trump chooses one of them for his next secretary of defence. Besides, history should not grant Trump and Mattis such an epic panorama. After all, no Trump tweet could compare with Petain’s 1916 “We’ll get them!” (“on les aura”) slogan, and the dignified, cold and fastidious de Gaulle would never have lent himself to the rant Mattis embarked upon in San Diego in 2005: “You go into Afghanistan, you got guys who slap women around for five years because they didn’t wear a veil. You know, guys like that ain’t got no manhood left anyway. So it’s a hell of a lot of fun to shoot them. Actually, it’s a lot of fun to fight. You know, it’s a hell of a hoot. It’s fun to shoot some people. I’ll be right upfront with you, I like brawling.”

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If investigations like this are not held, the US risks becoming a very volatile place.

Giuliani: Mueller Must Be Investigated For Destruction Of FBI Evidence (Hill)

Rudy Giuliani has an unmistakable New Year’s message for special counsel Robert Mueller: It is time for the chief investigator in the Russia case to be investigated in 2019. In wide-ranging interviews with Hill.TV’s Buck Sexton and me on Wednesday and Thursday, President Trump’s defense lawyer pointedly accused Mueller’s office of destroying evidence by allowing text messages from now-fired FBI official Peter Strzok and his FBI lover, Lisa Page, to be erased in the Russia probe. “Mueller should be investigated for destruction of evidence for allowing those text messages from Strzok to be erased, messages that would show the state of mind and tactics of his lead anti-Trump FBI agent at the start of his probe,” Giuliani said.

The Justice Department inspector general (IG) reported this month that it found large gaps in the preservation of official government text messages between Strzok and Page, the two top FBI agents who helped to start the Russia probe in 2016, who were having an affair at the time, and who expressed disdain for Trump. The report said a technical glitch was to blame for the FBI’s failure to save those text messages, but the IG was able to recover more than 19,000 from the early part of the Russia probe before Mueller was named special prosecutor. However, the IG said it was unable to recover messages from the time Strzok and Page worked for Mueller’s office in spring and summer 2017 because the memories of both FBI officials’ government phones were wiped clean by technicians.

That erasure occurred after Strzok and Page left Mueller’s team over revelations they exchanged anti-Trump text messages, including one string in which they talked about stopping Trump from becoming president. “That should be investigated, damn it, that should be investigated fully. You want a special counsel, get one for that,” Giuliani said.

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Really? The UN is going to pick sides? Against Trump and pro Big Tech?

Donald Trump ‘Worst Perpetrator’ Of Fake News: UN Special Rapporteur (Pol.eu)

The President of the United States is the “worst” perpetrator of misinformation on the internet, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Opinion David Kaye said in an interview published today. “Governments are real offenders when it comes to disinformation,” said Kaye. “In my own country, the United States, the worst perpetrator of false information is the President of the United States.” The problem of fake news emanating from governments should be covered by journalists, the rapporteur said. Platforms such as Google, Facebook or Twitter can help the broader fight against disinformation — bots, foreign interference… — but should not remove content, Kaye said.

“The platforms, I think, can do things that are more technical as long as they are not evaluating content. There are things they can do. They can’t just zap it and say, “This is fake news, it’s off the platform.” According to Kaye, platforms should focus on reducing spam and bot accounts rather than on policing content. And even bots are “tricky, because there are good bots and bad bots.” Google, Facebook and Twitter are under intense pressure from the European Commission to tackle fake news ahead of the European election in May 2019.

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When did the Yellow Vests become an insect species?

Macron Lost Authority After Caving To Yellow Jackets – EU’s Oettinger (Pol.eu)

The EU will accept a French budget deficit above the EU’s 3 percent ceiling in 2018 “as a one-time exception,” Budget Commissioner Günther Oettinger said in an interview published Thursday. Oettinger told the Funke media group of German newspapers that French President Emmanuel Macron had “lost authority with his budget for 2019” by upping his spending in response to the Yellow Jackets protests, “but he remains a strong supporter of the European Union.” Brussels reviewed the French budget several weeks ago and won’t be revisiting it, Oettinger added. “It crucial now that Macron continues his reform agenda, especially in the labor market, and that France remains on its growth track.”

“Under this condition, we will tolerate a national debt higher than 3 percent as a one-time exception. However, it must not continue beyond 2019.” Oettinger also told the Funke media group that there’s still a chance Britain’s parliament will vote in favor of Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit deal in January and that “there is certainly no majority for a disorderly Brexit or for a new referendum.” If the U.K. leaves the bloc without a Brexit deal, it will become “a third country like Morocco or Azerbaijan,” Oettinger said. He added that if Britain withholds its divorce payment in 2019, Germany would be left footing the bill “in the mid-three-digit range” of hundreds of millions of euros.

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The sudden urgency is too late.

Corbyn Wants May To Recall MPs Early Over Critical Brexit Vote (Ind.)

Jeremy Corbyn has challenged Theresa May to cut short the Christmas recess and recall parliament early in the new year in order to bring forward a critical vote on the Brexit deal. In an interview with The Independent, the Labour leader said he believed the prime minister and her allies were engaged in a “cynical manoeuvre” to run down the clock and offer MPs the “choice of the devil or the deep blue sea”. His remarks come as the Commons prepares to vote on the UK-EU deal in the week beginning 14 January – in what is being billed as the most significant moment in parliament for a generation.

With just 91 days remaining until Britain formally leaves the European Union, Mr Corbyn also reiterated it is a matter of “when, not if” Labour attempts to force a general election by tabling a motion of no confidence in the government, which he signalled will come in the aftermath of Ms May’s deal failing to receive MPs’ backing. But he refused to be drawn on whether a Labour government would seek to extend Article 50, given that just weeks would remain for any renegotiation of Britain’s exit from the bloc, and claimed: “Lots of things are possible, the EU has longform on reopening and extending negotiations, but let’s not jump too many hoops when we haven’t arrived at them.”

Speaking in his constituency office in Islington, north London, ahead of Christmas Day, he poured scorn on the prime minister’s decision earlier this month to pull a vote on the deal in the face of near-certain defeat and instead begin a last-ditch attempt to seek assurances from the EU to assuage Brexiteers’ concerns over the contentious issue of the Irish backstop. Pressed on whether he believed Ms May should now recall parliament a week early, on 2 January, the Labour leader replied: “Well it is in her hands to recall parliament. I want us to have a vote as soon as possible, that’s what I’ve been saying for the past two weeks, and if that means recalling parliament to have the vote let’s have it.

“But it looks to me the government has once again reneged on that and tried to put it back another week. We need to have that vote so a decision of parliament can be made. What I suspect is that it’s a completely cynical manoeuvre to run down the clock and offer MPs the choice of the devil or the deep blue sea.”

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For some, perhaps.

Brexit’s Aura Of Inevitability Is Vanishing (Kaletsky)

In times of political turmoil, events can move from impossible to inevitable without even passing through improbable. In early 2016, the idea of Britain leaving the European Union seemed almost as absurd as the next American president being the six-time bankrupt and serial sex pest Donald Trump. A few months later, Brexit and the Trump presidency were universally acknowledged as the inevitable consequence of an anti-elitist, anti-globalization backlash that was predictable decades ago. This sense of inevitability, far more than genuine anti-European conviction, is what has discouraged Britain from changing its mind about a pointless and self-destructive policy that few voters cared about until 2016.

The message from post-Brexit polling and focus groups has been: “We all know that Brexit has to happen, so why don’t the politicians just get on with it?” But with the Brexit process now moving toward its climax, another outcome is moving from impossible to inevitable: Britain could soon change its mind and decide to stay in the EU. This reversal of fortune could begin next month, when Prime Minister Theresa May is expected to lose the decisive parliamentary vote on her Brexit deal. If and when this defeat happens, May will face two unpalatable options. She could preside over a “No Deal” rupture with Europe — tantamount to a declaration of economic war against the EU — and risk a 2008-level economic crisis accompanied by a border upheaval in Ireland that could reignite the “Troubles.”

Or she could break her extravagant promises to honor the “people’s instruction” from the 2016 referendum and allow a new popular vote that might cancel Brexit. To avoid this invidious choice, May could try one last time to push her proposals through Parliament after losing the vote scheduled for the week of January 14. But if this last-ditch effort fails, her choices will be reduced to a No Deal rupture with Europe and a new referendum.

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Varoufakis is basically right, but I can’t see a three-year People’s Debate tackling 6 issues. Brits will think: we can’t even deal with one issue. And an extension of a transition period until 2022 is hard to see, too.

Turning Brexit Into a Celebration of Democracy (Varoufakis)

With weeks left before the UK leaves the EU by default, none of the three main options on offer – a no-deal Brexit, Prime Minister Theresa May’s withdrawal agreement with the EU, and rescinding Article 50 in order to remain in the EU – commands a majority in Parliament or among the population. Each generates maximum discontent: The no-deal scenario strikes most as a dangerous plunge into the unknown. May’s deal appalls Remainers and is seen by most Leavers as the kind of document only a country defeated at war would sign. Lastly, a Brexit reversal would confirm Leavers’ belief that democracy is allowed only when it yields results favored by the London establishment.

The conventional wisdom in Britain is that this impasse is lamentable, and that it proves the failure of British democracy. I disagree on both counts. If any of the three immediately available options were endorsed, say, in a second referendum, discontent would increase and the larger questions plaguing the UK would remain unanswered. Britons’ reluctance to endorse any Brexit option at present is, from this perspective, a sign of collective wisdom and a rare opportunity to come to terms with the country’s great challenges while re-thinking the UK’s relationship with the EU. But to seize it, the UK must invest in a “People’s Debate,” leading, in time, to a “People’s Decision.”

The People’s Debate must address six issues: the British constitution, including the creation of an English parliament or multiple regional English assemblies; the electoral system and the role of referenda; the Irish question, including the possibility of joint UK-Irish sovereignty over Northern Ireland; migration and freedom of movement; Britain’s economic model, particularly the outsize role of finance and the need to boost green investment across the country; and of course the UK-EU relationship.

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Proudly poisoning your food for 100 years.

Crime and Punishment in an Age of the Jungle (Vallianatos)

[..] studies funded by EPA and others have been connecting farmers’ sprays to ecocide, disease and death. I traced the catastrophic decline of honeybees to the neurotoxic pesticides of the farmers. This brought me in touch with a caring beekeeper from Colorado named Tom Theobald. He was telling me his days as a beekeeper were coming to an end. In December 2018, he summarized 44 years of living with honeybees and the poisoners of honeybees. “Almost every problem we face,” he said, “can be traced to a Criminal Corporatism and an out of control Capitalism. If there is a profit to be made, there is little regard paid to the consequences. If challenged, we get denial, diversion, excuses and junk science. It simply doesn’t matter how many people are sickened or die, how many species are pushed to extinction or how seriously the planet is compromised.”

[..] We are fortunate we have a reliable history of that irresponsible age by Deborah Blum, director of the Knight Science Journalism Program at MIT. A prolific and outstanding writer, Blum is telling a story that illuminates both early twentieth century, but, perversely, our own times. Her timely book, The Poison Squad: One Chemist’s Single-Minded Crusade for Food Safety at the Turn of the Twentieth Century (Penguin Press, 2018) paints an unforgettable picture of an American table full of “adulterated” food. Milk and meat were routinely treated with formaldehyde, a carcinogen used for embalming of corpses. Wine drinkers drank a liquid that had nothing to do with grapes. Wine was made from “tannin and coal tar.”

The poisonous copper sulphate dressed canned vegetables. The cleaning chemical borax coated butter. Honey had nothing to do with real honey. It was rather a version of “thickened, colored corn syrup.” Coffee was usually “sawdust, or wheat, beans, peas and dandelion seeds, scorched black and ground to resemble the genuine article.” Bread was baked with alum or chalk, or “sawdust chopped up very fine or gypsum in powder… Terra alba just out of the mine.” There was no law against the poisonous adulteration of food and drink. However, the adulteration of food, Blum says, gave sickness and death, potentially to huge number of Americans. Tainted milk alone killed thousands of children in New York City every year.

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Dec 022018
 


Frans Masereel Montmartre 1925

 

 

The way ‘news’ is reported through known outlets changes so fast hardly a soul notices that news as we once knew it no longer exists. This is due to a large extent to the advent of the internet in general, and social media in particular. On the one hand this has led to an absolute overkill in ‘news’, forcing people to pick between sources once they find they can’t read or view it all, on the other hand it has allowed news outlets to flood the former news waves with so much of the same that nobody can compare one source with the other anymore.

Once you achieve that situation, you’re more or less free to make the news, rather than just report on it. The rise of Donald Trump has made the existing mass media realize that one-sided negative reporting on the man sells better than anything objective can. The MSM have sort of won the battle versus the interwebs, albeit only in that regard, and only for this moment, but that is enough for them for now; just like their readers, they don’t have the scope or the energy to look any further or deeper.

This is in a nutshell, and we really should take a much more profound look but that’s another chapter, what has changed the news, and what will keep on changing it until the truth sets us all free. This is what drives outlets like CNN, the New York Times and the Guardian today, because it provides them with readers and viewers. Which they would not have if they didn’t conduct a 24/7 war on a set list of topics they know their audience can’t get enough of.

For these outlets, there are are three targets: Assange, Putin and Trump. And it’s especially the alleged links between the three that gets media -and politicians- excited, because if such links exist, the case against the individual targets is greatly reinforced. Trump can be portrayed in a much more damaging light if he’s painted off as Putin’s stooge, Putin becomes an enemy of America, Britain and the EU is he’s deciding elections in these countries (and poisoning people), and Assange can really only be set in a negative light if he aids and abets both of them.

The problem would be evidence. Or it would seem to be, at least. But the news has changed. We are well into the second year of ‘reporting’ on how Trump and Putin have conspired against Hillary, and there is still no proof other than intelligence services swearing on their mothers’ graves that really, Assange, Putin and Trump have targeted our democracies in order to take over control of them by illegal means.

They are the enemy, and you, who are of course on the other side, are their victims. But your trusted media will save you from a grueling fate. Now, if the passing of George HW Bush makes anything clear, it’s how united politicians and media are in praise of him, and against everyone else. The Observer, Guardian’s Sunday sister, puts it ever so eloquently today:

“Whether it’s his shabby efforts to defend Mohammed bin Salman, the Saudi crown prince accused of ordering the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, his professed “love” for North Korea’s ruthless dictator, Kim Jong-un, or his unashamed kowtowing to Putin, Trump undermines his office.

What a sorry contrast he presents with the dignified former president, George HW Bush, who died this weekend. Bush Sr wasn’t perfect, but he understood what making America great really means.”

It shouldn’t be necessary for anyone to point out that HW was basically a war criminal in thinly veiled disguise, who ordered the bombing of a caravan of civilians in Iraq 27 years ago, as the US had invaded Iraq because Saddam Hussein had taken Kuwait egged on by that same US. If you can call that dignified, you have issues.

By the same token, it shouldn’t be necessary for anyone to point out that the umpteenth Guardian hit piece on Julian Assange was just that, and invented from A to Z as well. If, when seeing the headline, you didn’t see that in the first fraction of a second, you haven’t been paying attention; you’re well into the news matrix. By now, everyone should recognize these things for what they are. But it only appears to get harder. It’s what outlets like to report, and readers like to read. It paints the world into a nice neat scheme, in which the bad guys are easy to spot, and you find yourself in a safe and cozy corner.

The problem, though, is that the entire thing is fantasy. The headline Manafort Held Secret Talks With Assange In Ecuadorian Embassy, Sources Say does not contain one iota of truth. But what does it matter? Assange has been cut off from the world, he can’t defend himself. Manafort is about to be thrown in jail for lying. The Russians can’t be trusted on anything, whatever they say must be a lie. And Trump gets so much of this stuff, he wouldn’t know where to begin anymore if he’d want to sue for libel.

One interesting detail about that ‘article’, after we’ve already established that they made it up, we know there’s not a single sign of Manafort having been in London around the time he allegedly met with Assange, is the connection between the Guardian and Ecuador. The paper has stationed people in Quito, the country’s capital. And sources within the Ecuadorian government appear to be feeding them material. Such as the claim that Manafort visited Assange. He wasn’t there. We know that from his passports and surveillance cameras.

The Guardian has a vendetta with Julian Assange, and Ecuador’s new president uses the paper to smear Assange’s name, painting him as an unwashed slob and a cat hater. This is your news, Britain and other anglo readers, this is what it’s come to. Already. And we’re just in the first inning of the game of making up the news as we go along.

The byline of that Manafort/Assange fantasy piece says “Luke Harding and Dan Collyns in Quito”. Now, on May 16 2018 I published an article entitled I Am Julian Assange, in which I referred to no less than three Guardian articles all published the day before, and all with the same topic.

The first one, Revealed: Ecuador Spent Millions On Spy Operation For Julian Assange, lists Dan Collyns, Stephanie Kirchgaessner, Luke Harding, Fernando Villavicencio and Cristina Solórzano as authors. The second one, How Julian Assange Became An Unwelcome Guest In Ecuador’s Embassy, lists Luke Harding, Stephanie Kirchgaessner and Dan Collyns.Number three is Why Does Ecuador Want Assange Out Of Its London Embassy?, written by poor lonely Dan Collyns in Quito all by himself.

It seems obvious that ‘Ecuador’ didn’t get sick of Assange. What happened was Ecuador changed presidents. Rafael Correa’s longtime friend and right hand man Lenin Moreno ran for president as his logical successor, only to turn against his former mentor as soon as he was elected. And not long after that, the Guardian has sources in Quito which it could use to smear Assange even further.

 

This way of ‘making’ the news is not limited to the Guardian, and it’s not limited to its coverage of WikiLeaks. We must ask ourselves every step of the way if we can still call this sort of thing ‘news’, ‘coverage’ and ‘reporting’. Let’s hope both WikiLeaks and Paul Manafort sue the paper, but apparently they’ll need a lot of money to do it. An additional layer of protection for fake news.

The Guardian is not just after Assange, and it’s not just Luke Harding writing hit pieces. Here are the paper’s editors on November 30. The fallout of the Manafort/Assange piece has made them sort of careful in that they say: “what we say is probably not true, but imagine if it were! Wouldn’t that be terrible?!”

America’s Compromised Leader (Guardian Op-Ed)

Earlier this week Donald Trump stood on the south lawn of the White House and ridiculed Theresa May’s Brexit agreement as a “great deal for the EU”. He is likely to make the same contemptuous case during the G20 summit in Argentina this weekend, although pointedly there is no planned bilateral. Given the political stakes facing her back home, Mrs May must feel as if 14,000 miles is a long way to travel for the weekend merely to be trashed by supposedly her greatest ally. When this happens, though, who does Mrs May imagine is confronting her? Is it just Mr Trump himself, America First president, sworn enemy of the international order in general and the European Union in particular?

That’s a bad enough reality. But might her accuser also be, at some level, Vladimir Putin, a leader whose interest in weakening the EU and breaking Britain from it as damagingly as possible outdoes even that of Mr Trump?

That prospect is even worse. Such speculation would normally seem, and still probably is, a step too far. The idea that a US president is in any way doing the Kremlin’s business as well as his own is the stuff of spy thrillers and of John le Carré TV adaptations. Yet the icy fact is that the conspiracy theory may now also contain an element of truth.

[..] Days before he took office in 2017, Mr Trump said that “the closest I came to Russia” was in selling a Florida property to a Russian oligarch in 2008. If Mr Cohen’s statement is true, Mr Trump was telling his country a lie. What is more, the Russians knew it. Potentially, that raises issues of US national security. If Mr Putin knew that Mr Trump was concealing information about his Russian business interests, this could give Moscow leverage over the US leader. Mr Trump might feel constrained to praise Mr Putin or to avoid conflicts with Russia over policy. All this may indeed be very far-fetched. Yet Russia’s activities in the 2016 election against Hillary Clinton and in favour of Mr Trump are not fiction.

They prompted the setting up of the Mueller inquiry into links between the Russian government and the Trump campaign. Another document this week suggests a longtime Trump adviser, Roger Stone, may have sought information about WikiLeaks plans to release hacked Democratic party emails in 2016. There is nothing in the documents released this week that proves that Mr Trump conspired with Russian efforts to win him the presidency.

Yet those efforts were real. For two years, Mr Trump has gone to unprecedented lengths to attack the special counsel. After November’s midterms, he seemed on the verge of firing Mr Mueller. He may yet do so. But this week’s charges suggest that there is plenty more still to be revealed. Mr Trump still has questions to answer from the investigating authorities, from the new Congress – and from America’s long-suffering allies.

You see what they do, and how they do it? Big statement, and then say it’s probably not true. Post Manafort/Assange disaster piece, their lawyers have provided a way to legally make outrageous claims. It’s still smear, and it’s still slander, but they’ve already covered their asses by saying it’s probably a step too far. Still managed to say it though… And hey, what’s not to like about the phrase “..America’s long-suffering allies”?

Also on November 30, the Guardian ran the following piece. Note the headline. And realize there never was a deal. Which the article acknowledges of course. Just not in the headline.

Trump Calls Russia Deal ‘Legal And Cool’ As Mueller Inquiry Gathers Pace

Donald Trump, drawn deeper into an investigation into Russian meddling in US elections, has defended his pursuit of a business deal in Moscow at the same time he was running for president as “very legal & very cool”. Trump appeared rattled this week after Michael Cohen, his former personal lawyer, confessed that he lied to Congress about a Russian property contract he pursued on his boss’s behalf during the Republican primary campaign in 2016. The surprise admission cast the president himself as a pivotal figure in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into alleged collusion for the first time. In a series of tweets from Buenos Aires, where he is attending the G20 summit, Trump recalled “happily living my life” as a property developer before running for president after seeing the “Country going in the wrong direction (to put it mildly)”.

Smear Slander Rinse and Repeat. All you need to do is add “it’s probably not true” here and there, and you’re good to go. People claim that the coming age of AI and algorithms is a threat to news dissemination, but at this pace there won’t be much left to threaten.

I think I’ll close with that Observer quote I posted above. It’s just perfect.

Donald Trump’s Growing List Of Failures (Observer Op-Ed)

“Whether it’s his shabby efforts to defend Mohammed bin Salman, the Saudi crown prince accused of ordering the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, his professed “love” for North Korea’s ruthless dictator, Kim Jong-un, or his unashamed kowtowing to Putin, Trump undermines his office. What a sorry contrast he presents with the dignified former president, George HW Bush, who died this weekend. Bush Sr wasn’t perfect, but he understood what making America great really means.”

Okay, can’t help myself. MbS: not shabby efforts, but a refusal to risk being singled out and be blamed for $400 oil prices by the same Senators who tolerated Saudi behavior for decades. Kim Jong-un: Trump is closer to peace in Korea than anyone in decades. The claim Trump is ‘kowtowing’ to Putin only makes sense if you believe the unproven allegations of collusion. Robert Mueller hasn’t provided any evidence of it in 18 months, but a bunch of guys in a London office know better? As far as the dignity of Bush 41 is concerned, I see no reason to add one single syllable.

I will never get tired of defending Julian Assange. I do get tired of defending Trump, but the media leaves me no choice. There’s a dire need for at least a little balance in what passes for the news, and that balance seems to get further out of reach every passing day. News outlets have resorted to propaganda campaigns against individuals, organizations and even entire nations because it helps them sell copies, ads and airtime.

And frankly, we must prepare for smear and allegations thought up out of thin air just to make a profit, to be used to lock away people for life regardless of what a nation’s laws say, for presidents to be impeached because it suits the owners of papers or TV stations (despite Trump being their meal ticket), and we must for the inevitable endgame, fake news as the reason to start a -nuclear- war.

 

 

Nov 192018
 
 November 19, 2018  Posted by at 10:31 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,  5 Responses »


René Magritte Popular panorama 1926

 

Chinese Firms With Dollar Debts Are ‘Under Increasing Pressure’ (CNBC)
Tim Cook: Tech Regulation ‘Inevitable’ Because Free Market Isn’t Working (MW)
Trump Would Not Intervene If Whitaker Moves To Curtail Mueller Probe (R.)
The Ultimate Fake News (PL)
Brexit Transition Could Be Extended To 2022 – Barnier (G.)
May Told To Reveal Impact Of Brexit Plan On Economy (Ind.)
UK PM May Seeks Business Support For EU Deal (R.)
Jeremy Corbyn To Set Out Labour Alternative To PM’s Brexit Plan (G.)
Macron: Europe Must Unite To Prevent ‘Global Chaos’ (BBC)
The Eurozone Banks’ Trillion Timebomb (Lacalle)
Turkey Says Khashoggi Killers May Have Taken Body Parts Out Of Country (R.)
Sackler Family Face Mass Litigation, Criminal Investigations Over Opioids (G.)
China Expands Ban On Waste Imports (AFP)
Letter to Prime Minister Scott Morrison, Australia (Pamela Anderson)

 

 

Corporate defaults on the horizon.

Chinese Firms With Dollar Debts Are ‘Under Increasing Pressure’ (CNBC)

More Chinese companies could default on their debts issued in U.S. dollars, experts warn. They say that the rising cost of borrowing and a weakening Chinese yuan could see more firms fail to meet upcoming payments, as an increasing number of bonds mature in the next few years. Japanese bank Nomura said in a research note in early November that for the first 10 months of this year, defaults on Chinese offshore corporate dollar bonds — or OCDB — totaled $3.4 billion, compared with none last year. It expects more defaults to come over the next two years. So far, there’s little chance that increased pressure on offshore dollar repayment could trigger a broader crisis, but the situation should be closely monitored for spillover threats.

“I’m watchful over how these dollar debts will roll over in time,” Tai Hui at JP Morgan in Hong Kong, told reporters Thursday. Hui stressed that he currently sees no systemic risks, but noted that financial strains often begin in one area before spreading. “I think the government needs to be very mindful of some of these potential links,” he said, adding that the property sector should be foremost in mind. In its report dated Nov. 7, Nomura estimated that outstanding dollar-denominated Chinese corporate debt stood at about $751 billion in the third quarter. That’s more than double the amount at the end of 2015. It projected that an average of $33.3 billion of Chinese corporate dollar bonds will mature each quarter from the fourth quarter of 2018 to the end of 2020, sharply higher than the estimated $11 billion that matured in the third quarter of this year.

Read more …

When you think about it, that’s quite a statement.

Tim Cook: Tech Regulation ‘Inevitable’ Because Free Market Isn’t Working (MW)

Regulation of tech companies is coming, Apple Inc. Chief Executive Tim Cook says, because the free market “is not working.” “I’m a big believer in the free market. But we have to admit when the free market is not working. And it hasn’t worked here. I think it’s inevitable that there will be some level of regulation.” – Tim Cook, Apple CEO. “Generally speaking, I am not a big fan of regulation,” Cook told Axios in an interview for “Axios on HBO,” airing Sunday night, but “I think the Congress and the administration at some point will pass something,”

And Cook said tech companies should not be afraid of regulations. “This is not a matter of privacy versus profits, or privacy versus technical innovation. That’s a false choice,” he said. Cook told Axios that while he believes technology is not inherently good or bad, companies must be aware that their products can be misused. He also said that while Silicon Valley has embraced diversity in general, it “has missed it” when it comes to closing the gender gap.

Read more …

Time for Mueller to put his cards on the table.

Trump Would Not Intervene If Whitaker Moves To Curtail Mueller Probe (R.)

President Donald Trump said in an interview aired on Sunday he would not intervene if Matthew Whitaker, his acting U.S. attorney general, moved to curtail Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. In an interview with the “Fox News Sunday” program taped on Friday, Trump also said he probably would not agree to a sit-down interview with Mueller, who also is investigating whether the Republican president’s campaign conspired with Moscow and whether Trump has unlawfully sought to obstruct the probe.

Whitaker took over supervision of Mueller’s investigation on Nov. 7 after Trump appointed him as the chief U.S. law enforcement official to replace Jeff Sessions, who the president ousted. Whitaker, who Democrats have called a Trump “political lackey,” in the past criticized the scope of the Mueller probe and brought up the possibility of undermining it by slashing Mueller’s funding. Trump, in the interview, said he was unaware of Whitaker’s past statements about Mueller’s probe and that he would “not get involved” if Whitaker moved to curtail it. “It’s going to be up to him,” Trump told “Fox News Sunday” interviewer Chris Wallace. “I think he’s very well aware politically. I think he’s astute politically. … He’s going to do what’s right.”

Read more …

“..the question asked: Did Russia “tamper with vote tallies in order to get Donald Trump elected President?” There is no evidence –I repeat, none– that Russia “tampered with vote tallies.” To my knowledge, no one has claimed that Russia tampered with vote tallies.”

The Ultimate Fake News (PL)

Fake news is a serious problem in our political life. I’m not referring to a pathetically small number of Facebook ads bought by Russian provocateurs. I’m talking about the fake news that was paid for by the Hillary Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee; fabricated by Democratic Party-allied consultants; propagated by the FBI and the CIA; promoted by the broadcast networks, CNN, MSNBC, the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Associated Press; trumpeted by pretty much every senior elected Democrat; and kept alive by the appalling Robert Mueller. The claim that the Trump campaign colluded with the Russians to “steal” the 2016 presidential election is the great fake news of our time. How successful have the Democrats been in propagating that myth? This survey by The Economist and YouGov suggests that they have been successful beyond their wildest dreams. First the numbers, then some observations.


click to enlarge

Note the question asked: Did Russia “tamper with vote tallies in order to get Donald Trump elected President?” There is no evidence–I repeat, none–that Russia “tampered with vote tallies.” To my knowledge, no one has claimed that Russia tampered with vote tallies. I am not aware of any plausible theory on which a foreign power could tamper with vote tallies. To say that Russia tampered with vote tallies is as credible as asserting that the moon is made of green cheese. And yet, two-thirds of Democrats say it is either “definitely true” (31%) or “probably true” (36%) that Russia tampered with vote tallies. Women are especially gullible; 48%, across all party lines, have fallen for this fake news. Sadly, 70% of blacks have bought it hook, line and sinker. The Northeast is the country’s most ignorant region, apparently: 47% of Northeasterners have fallen for the hoax.

So the Democrats, by their constant hysteria and innuendo, have convinced a large majority of their followers, and 42% of all Americans, of a palpable falsehood that was fabricated in order to assure Hillary Clinton’s election and then, when that effort failed, perpetuated in an attempt to cripple President Trump’s administration. Is this the most successful disinformation campaign in history? I don’t know. But in American history, I can’t think of a plausible rival. President Trump is right: fake news is a serious threat. By cynically selling an absurd lie to its followers, the Democratic Party has badly damaged confidence in our democracy.

Read more …

Which would add the two years at the back end that May lost at the front by doing nothing.

Brexit Transition Could Be Extended To 2022 – Barnier (G.)

Europe’s chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, has raised the prospect of the UK remaining under EU control until the end of 2022, a proposal that would cost billions and infuriate Tory Brexiters. At a special meeting with ambassadors from the EU’s 27 member states, Barnier floated the prospect of extending the Brexit transition until the end of 2022. His idea would allow an extra two years to negotiate a trading relationship, but means the UK would continue to follow EU rules and pay into its budget with no say for six and a half years after the 2016 vote to leave. Both sides have already agreed a transition period of 21 months, until the end of 2020, as well as the chance to extend once by mutual consent.

The length of the extension is still to be finalised by negotiators. The transition period, which the British government prefers to call the implementation period, would see the UK following all EU laws and European court of justice rulings, while having no ministers or MEPs in the EU decision-making process. Theresa May has previously suggested an extension of only a few months would be needed, but the EU is still waiting on the UK to make a formal proposal. Negotiations between the EU and UK were continuing on Sunday as Brexit talks entered a critical final week, ahead of a special summit on 25 November when both sides hope to seal the deal.

Read more …

There is an analysis and she refuses to publish it?

May Told To Reveal Impact Of Brexit Plan On Economy (Ind.)

Theresa May faces an embarrassing defeat over plans to force her into publishing data comparing Britain’s economic prospects under her Brexit deal to staying in the EU. Eleven Conservatives – including Jo Johnson, who resigned as a minister last week – have publicly signed up to the cross-party push, with the rebellion set to grow if it comes to a vote on Monday. The prime minister has so far refused to commit to releasing the analysis, which is likely to underline how remaining in the EU would deliver a more prosperous future for the country. Ms May meanwhile continued her media offensive to defend her Brexit plans, while eurosceptics pushed to raise enough support to trigger a vote of no confidence in the Conservative leader.

On Monday more than 70 MPs from six different parties will attempt to push through an amendment to the Finance Bill, which if passed would obligate Ms May to publish an economic impact assessment into the withdrawal deal she has agreed with the EU. The names include 11 Tories – the same number who rebelled the last time Ms May was defeated in the Commons on Brexit – who had backed Remain in 2016, many of whom now also support a new final say referendum on the outcome of Brexit.

Read more …

Business is so scared of a No-Deal Brexit they’ll sign up to almost anything by now.

UK PM May Seeks Business Support For EU Deal (R.)

British Prime Minister Theresa May will seek to win support from business leaders for her contentious draft European Union divorce deal on Monday as dissenters in her own party scrambled to trigger a leadership challenge. May has had a tumultuous few days since unveiling her deal on Wednesday last week, with several ministers, including her Brexit minister, resigning and some of her own members of parliament seeking to oust her. The British leader has vowed to fight on, on Sunday warning that toppling her risked delaying Britain’s EU exit, and has said the future partnership agreement will help ensure the government delivers on the 2016 Brexit vote. The EU is due to hold a summit to discuss the deal on Nov. 25.

May will defend her deal in a speech to the CBI business lobby group’s annual conference on Monday, saying Britain would embark on an intense week of Brexit negotiations to try to thrash out the details of its outline future relationship with the EU. “We now have an intense week of negotiations ahead of us in the run-up to the special European Council on Sunday,” May will say, according to advance extracts. “During that time I expect us to hammer out the full and final details of the framework that will underpin our future relationship and I am confident that we can strike a deal at the council that I can take back to the House of Commons.”

Read more …

His entire idea is to wait for May to fail?! Look, she can threaten a No-Deal, and that would entice people to sign up for her plan, not for a separate Labour one for which time may have run out anyway.

Jeremy Corbyn To Set Out Labour Alternative To PM’s Brexit Plan (G.)

Jeremy Corbyn will set out Labour’s “good Brexit plan” on Monday, saying that leaving the European Union must be the catalyst for a “radical programme of investment and real change” as the party steps up efforts to show it has an alternative to Theresa May’s approach. Speaking to business leaders at the CBI’s annual conference in London, which will also be addressed by the prime minister, Corbyn will claim May’s deal, published last week, would “leave the country in an indefinite halfway house without a real say over our future”. Instead, he will say, “a good Brexit plan for this country is not just about what can be negotiated with Brussels. It must also include a radical programme of investment and real change across our regions and nations.

“Brexit should be the catalyst to invest in our regions and infrastructure, bringing good jobs and real control to local communities and people.” His words are likely to infuriate those Labour MPs who believe the party’s stance should be to seek to block Brexit by pressing for a referendum on May’s deal – with the option of remaining in the EU on the ballot paper. Corbyn played down that suggestion on Sunday, telling Sky News’ Sophy Ridge: “It’s an option for the future, but it’s not an option for today. If there was a referendum tomorrow, what’s it going to be on, what’s the question going to be?” Asked how he might vote in such a referendum, Corbyn said, “I don’t know how I am going to vote, what the options would be at that time.”

Read more …

So unpopular at home he turns to saving the entire world.

Macron: Europe Must Unite To Prevent ‘Global Chaos’ (BBC)

France’s President Emmanuel Macron has called for closer ties between his country and Germany, saying Europe “has the obligation not to let the world slip into chaos”. Mr Macron is in Berlin for the country’s annual day of mourning for victims of war. In a speech to Germany’s parliament, he said Europe must not “become a plaything of great powers”. Mr Macron wants a more integrated EU, with a joint eurozone budget. He also wants Germany’s backing for a European Army, which he has said would reduce the bloc’s dependence on the US, and a new tax on internet tech giants.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has expressed tentative support for some of these ideas, but others are controversial in Berlin. The French leader spoke of nationalist forces “with no memory”, and urged progressive forces to unite in an uncertain world. “There are too many powers that wish to thwart us, that interfere in our public debates, attack our liberal democracies and are trying to pit us against each other,” he said. “And in this global order, which we have to take very seriously, our strength – our true strength – lies in unity.” The French president acknowledged that unity could be “scary,” and would mean nations pooling their funds and decision-making – but then asked: “Is it better to remain locked at a standstill?”

Read more …

CoCos.

The Eurozone Banks’ Trillion Timebomb (Lacalle)

Disappointing earnings, rising risk in the eurozone as well as in their diversification markets such as emerging economies, weak net income margins and low return on tangible equity are factors that have contributed to the weak performance of European banks. Investors are rightly suspicious about consensus estimates for 2019 with expectations of double-digit EPS growth rates. Those growth rates look impossible in the current macroeconomic scenario. Eurozone banks have done a good job of strengthening their capital structure, reaching almost a one per cent per annum increase in Tier 1 core capital. The question is whether this improvement is enough.

Two factors weigh on sentiment: • More than EUR104 billion of risky “hybrid bonds” (CoCos) are included in the calculation of core capital • The total volume of Non-Performing Loans across the European Union is still at around EUR 900 billion, well above pre-crisis levels, with a provision ratio of only 50.7%, according to the European Commission. Although the ratio has declined to 4.4%, down by roughly 1 percentage point year-on-year, the absolute figure remains elevated and the provision ratio is too small. This is what I call the “one trillion eurozone timebomb”. One trillion euro risk when the MSCI Europe Bank index has a total market capitalization of around EUR790 billion.

Read more …

This doesn’t rhyme with the acid.

Turkey Says Khashoggi Killers May Have Taken Body Parts Out Of Country (R.)

The killers of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi may have taken his dismembered body out of Turkey in luggage, Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar was quoted as saying by broadcaster CNN Turk on Sunday. [..] Speaking at a panel as part of an international conference in Halifax, Canada, Akar said Khashoggi’s killers may have taken the journalist’s body parts out of Turkey in luggage. “One probability is that they left the country three to four hours after committing the murder. They may have taken out Khashoggi’s dismembered corpse inside luggage without facing problems due to their diplomatic immunity,” CNN Turk cited Akar as saying. .

Read more …

“..the Sacklers wholly own Connecticut-based Purdue Pharma..”

Sackler Family Face Mass Litigation, Criminal Investigations Over Opioids (G.)

Members of the multi-billionaire philanthropic Sackler family that owns the maker of prescription painkiller OxyContin are facing mass litigation and likely criminal investigation over the opioids crisis still ravaging America. Some of the Sacklers wholly own Connecticut-based Purdue Pharma, the company that created and sells the legal narcotic OxyContin, a drug at the center of the opioid epidemic that now kills almost 200 people a day across the US. Suffolk county in Long Island, New York, recently sued several family members personally over the overdose deaths and painkiller addiction blighting local communities. Now lawyers warn that action will be a catalyst for hundreds of other US cities, counties and states to follow suit.

At the same time, prosecutors in Connecticut and New York are understood to be considering criminal fraud and racketeering charges against leading family members over the way OxyContin has allegedly been dangerously over-prescribed and deceptively marketed to doctors and the public over the years, legal sources told the Guardian last week. “This is essentially a crime family … drug dealers in nice suits and dresses,” said Paul Hanly, a New York city lawyer who represents Suffolk county and is also a lead attorney in a huge civil action playing out in federal court in Cleveland, Ohio, involving opioid manufacturers and distributors.

[..] The Sackler name is prominently attached to prestigious cultural and academic institutions that have accepted millions donated by the family in the US and the UK. It is now inscribed on a lawsuit alleging members of the family “actively participated in conspiracy and fraud to portray the prescription painkiller as non-addictive, even though they knew it was dangerously addictive”

Read more …

The waste will move to poorer countries. Because imagine we’d produce less of it…

China Expands Ban On Waste Imports (AFP)

China will expand its ban on imports of solid waste, local media reported Monday, almost a year after its first curbs caused havoc in countries that sent their rubbish to the Asian giant. The regulatory action — which expands the prohibition to 32 categories of solid waste from the 24 banned last year — will go into effect from December 31, according to official news agency Xinhua, citing four Chinese government agencies. Newly banned product types include hardware, ships, auto parts, stainless steel waste and scrap, titanium and wood, Xinhua said. The initial ban caused worldwide problems as recyclers were cut off from their main market for waste material.

Globally, since 1992, 72 percent of plastic waste has ended up in China and Hong Kong, according to a study in the journal Science Advances. China bought up more than half of the scrap materials exported by the US last year — but that proportion has been falling with Beijing’s regulatory moves cutting down the types of waste Chinese companies could buy. China says the policy changes are in line with a new push to protect the environment. They suggest Beijing no longer wants to be the world’s trash can, or even its recycle bin. [..] Global plastic exports to China were forecast to fall from 7.4 million tonnes in 2016 to 1.5 million tonnes in 2018, while paper exports might tumble nearly a quarter, according to one researcher.

Read more …

It’s easy to ridicule Pamela Anderson as just a pair of boobs. So that’s what Australia’s PM does. That’s how Aussie politics works.

Letter to Prime Minister Scott Morrison, Australia (Pamela Anderson)

Dear Prime Minister Morrison, Your comments following my appeal to you on 60 Minutes were disappointing. You trivialized and laughed about the suffering of an Australian and his family. You followed it with smutty, unnecessary comments about a woman voicing her political opinion. We all deserve better from our leaders, especially in the current environment. Following the show, 60 Minutes canvassed the views of Australians online. People responded in their thousands, overwhelmingly – 92% of more than 7000 – in favour of bringing Julian home. Rather than making lewd suggestions about me, perhaps you should instead think about what you are going to say to millions of Australians when one of their own is marched in an orange jumpsuit to Guantanamo Bay – for publishing the truth. You can prevent this.

Julian Assange will soon face his Seventh Christmas isolated from family and friends, after 8 years of detention without charge. For six years he has been refused any access to fresh air, sunshine, exercise, or proper medical or dental care. In February 2016, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) stated that his detention was unlawful. For the past seven months Mr. Assange has been denied the right to receive visitors, use internet or telecommunications. This Australian is not getting a fair go; his human rights are being openly violated. I am hopeful Australia now has a leader with strength and conviction enough to bring him home. Australia and the world are watching how you treat your citizen, your publisher, in dire need of help from his own government.

Read more …

Mar 292018
 


Rembrandt van Rijn Christ In The Storm On The Sea Of Galilee 1633
Stolen from Gardner Museum March 18 1990, single largest art theft in the world. Never recovered

 

I am gullible. Very. I betcha I am more gullible than you. And that tells you something, because you know how gullible you are. Or so you think. Still, as bad as I got it, something physically snapped in the back of my head this morning, I could hear it snap, when I saw this Guardian headline:

Skripals Poisoned From Front Door Of Salisbury Home, Police Say

Detectives investigating the attempted murders of Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia Skripal have said they believe the pair were poisoned with a nerve agent at the front door of his Salisbury home. Specialists investigating the poisoning of the the Skripals have found the highest concentration of the nerve agent on the front door at the address, police said. Counter-terrorism detectives will continue to focus their inquiries on the home address for the coming weeks, and possibly months…

See, because of my gullibility, I’ve decided that if I’m to have any idea of what really goes on around me, I’m condemned to reading a lot. Obviously, like you, I’ve found that the vast majority of what passes for news is as fake as it gets. More so by the day. So we have to read between the lines all the time. It’s what it is. But this…

If these two people have actually been poisoned, that’s a really terrible thing. But maybe lying about such things is much worse. And I doubt that anything at all we’ve been told about the Skripal case is true. Not because I don’t want to believe it, but because the storytellers plant so many trees they’re getting lost in their own forest.

Today the British press reports that the Skripal father and daughter pair were poisoned “from their front door”. They do that with the same level of certainty that just a few days ago they used in telling us they were poisoned through the air vents of the dad’s BMW. Exact same story, just a different location. And that’s after a by now long sequence of headlines that claimed it had happened inside the home, or in a bar, a pizzeria, or on the parkbench they were ostensibly ‘found’ on.

What that headline above, and all others on the topic that came before it, tells me is that evidently the hundreds of ‘experts’ involved in the case have not yet been able to locate the ‘nerve agent’. They’re still just guessing, even 25 days after the incident is supposed to have happened. How would that be done? I have no idea, but I’m surely thinking that after almost 4 weeks it’s essentially a pure guessing game, and nothing more than that.

Does the alleged nerve agent leave traces after all that time? I don’t have a clue, but I do know from what I’ve read that it’s apparently so toxic (as in lethal) that even very faint traces of the stuff are, well, lethal. So when I first read the BMW air vent theory last week I was thinking: did the guy who towed that car to the police station wear a full hazmat suit? He would have had to if he’s still alive.

And where is that car anyway? Come to think of it, where are the Skripals? And how is it possible that they survived the ‘attack’? Were they given a full blood transfusion? Are they being treated 24/7 by dedicated personnel in hazmat suits? There are too many questions for me to answer. And that goes for you too. And for Boris Johnson. And Donald Trump. And the governments of the 30-or-so nations that nevertheless expelled well over a hundred Russian diplomats.

 

Now, I’m not a chemist, let alone an organic chemist. So perhaps I should consult with my friend Dave Collum, who is. But I was going to write this from memory, not go back and find all those headlines, or ask around. This is not about me being 100% correct, it’s about the ‘news reports’ being so far off the truth.

Here’s what I have picked up about the nerve agent. The press calls it “Novichok“ (Russian for newbies), but Novichok is not a nerve agent, it’s a group of them. In the Skripal case, the journalists -who I can only hope are not as gullible as I am- behind all the ‘news’ have been told by ‘authorities’ that we’re dealing with A-234, which is a novichok nerve agent.

Developed by Russia a long time ago, but no longer produced in Russia after 1993, as the 2013 Nobel Peace Prize winning Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) has confirmed. Its chemical formula has been made public, which means that at least in theory anyone could produce it.

Russia would seem to be the last country to try that, because it would point straight to them. And they haven’t stood still for 25 years, they can make Novichok 2.0 if they want. Not that they appear to have much if any reason to poison the Skripals, there are quite a few parties that have at least as much incentive to do that.

 

Wait, before I forget, there was a policeman who allegedly ‘treated’ the Skripals first, and was himself ‘poisoned’ in the act and hospitalized, but was released a few days ago. What exactly happened to him? How did the A-234 not kill him? Did he receive such a faint trace that he was ‘cleaned’ within days? Where is he now? Why has he not released any statement? Doesn’t he strike you, too, as being a little bit pregnant?

But, again, I’m not a chemist. Collum, who I can’t really claim as a friend anymore, because he’s everybody’s friend these days, tweets a hint:

Hey organic chemists: the Novichuk nerve agents are like those below. [..] You could just use the racemate with plenty of effect. Unlike drugs, the goal here is to kill the recipient.

From what I understand, A-234, like all novichoks, is just a pesticide with a fancy dress on. Not terribly unique or special, and not terribly Russian after 25 years either. Just terribly lethal. Which by the way is saying something about how we produce our food, too. Can we blame Putin for losing our insects as well, please? It’s so much easier that way.

 

But I digress. As I started out saying, it’s the ‘news’ that yet another ‘location’ for the ‘nerve agent’ had been discovered after 25 days and hundreds of specialists, at the bleeping front door of the ‘victims’ home, as if nobody ever thought of looking there, that snapped that thingy in my head. Location, location, location.

Still, when I venture beyond what can be or has been proven, which is about as near to zero Kelvin as I even want to think about, there was this other thing this morning. Julian Assange has been cut off from the internet by his gracious Ecuadorian hosts in their London embassy. And I betcha that’s because he dared question Britain in the Skripal case, on Twitter.

Here’s my theory, borne off my gullibility in all its glory: Theresa May and her government have been stumbling from disaster to catastrophe over the Brexit calamity for months now, and they needed some relief. But they themselves are not smart enough to provide it. So someone got it for them.

They’re keeping Labour boss Jeremy Corbyn occupied for all he’s worth with a cocked-up narrative of him being an antisemite. Stupid as can be story, but it works for as long as they need it to. The other day the BBC photoshopped a Russian hat on Corbyn’s face; that stuck less than the Jew-hater tale, so they went with that one. Some UK parliamentary fake news committee wants to talk to Zuckerberg, but they should look closer to home. If fake news is what they’re really after.

So anyway, they all went with the Novichok concocted thing, and boy did that ever catch on. Even every western politicians’ pet hamsters have now sent their Russian caregivers packing. And you know what it is, even if May and Boris had any proof of Russian involvement, all those countries certainly do not. Even if they had the evidence, they’re not going to send it around to dozens of countries. Just not.

Boris Johnson couldn’t resist comparing Putin to Hitler. You can’t fall any lower than that. Or can you? The diplomats were all expelled on a day that Russia was lamenting the death of 64(?) victims (mostly children) in a shopping mall fire, in what they declared a day of national mourning. You think Boris sent his condolences?

 

I can write about this all day long, and weekends too. You know, Crimea, Ukraine, MH17, the new cold war narrative has been well prepared. And now John Bolton, who may well be the deadliest cartoon character we’ve ever seen -let alone imagined-, is all set to score the easy tip-in. But that is possible only because all of you are as gullible as I am. Don’t forget that. They’re blinding you with silence, with stupidity, with your own lack of neuron activity.

Even if this is a story with too many holes in it to qualify as Swiss cheese. The story doesn’t make any sense? Who cares, really, all the front pages shout it out in bold print. And if you get tired of it: where’s the remote, Mildred?

 

British politician and former candidate for mayor of London, George Galloway, on Twitter, says it so much better than I ever could, and shorter too, which is why I quote him at the end of this article:

Why do I not believe you? Let me count the ways. You’re not looking for anyone in connection with the attack on the Skripals. There is no manhunt, no all points alert, no description, no identikit drawing, no CCTV. No suspects. That means you already know what happened. #Russia

We know Facebook is trying to screw with your brains. Well, they’re not the only ones. Your government -and ‘intelligence’ services- want the monopoly on that, too.

I can not make this a definitive, or final, or complete story. Because nobody can. But I can tell you this: if you think that Russia or God forbid Putin, ‘poisoned’ the Skripals, you’re so wrong you’re beyond salvation. Not because it may or may not be true, but because you have seen no evidence. And you still go with it. Where’s the remote, Mildred?

 

 

Jan 182018
 
 January 18, 2018  Posted by at 10:34 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  10 Responses »


Henry Matisse Bouquet of flowers for July 14 Oct 7 1919

 

Japan and Europe Start the Central Bank Reset (BBG)
The Bubble That Could Break the World (Rickards)
South Korea Considers Shutting Down Domestic Cryptocurrency Exchanges (R.)
Trump Reveals Winners Of Controversial ‘Fake News Awards’ (AFP)
Trump Considers Big ‘Fine’ Over China Intellectual Property Theft (R.)
China’s Communists Take More Stakes In Private Companies (BBG)
Apple Expects to Pay $38 Billion Tax on Repatriated Cash (BBG)
Apple May Not Hire 20,000 New Workers, or Bring Back Its Overseas Cash (MW)
Assange Keeps Warning Of AI Censorship (CJ)
Australia’s Household Debt-to-Income Ratio Reaches 200% (AFR)
Mario Draghi Told To Drop Membership Of Secretive Bankers’ Club (G.)
Global Air Traffic At New Record (AFP)
Europe’s Microwave Ovens Emit Nearly As Much CO2 As 7 Million Cars (G.)
1 Million Tonnes A Year: UK Supermarkets Shamed For Plastic Packaging (G.)
The Plastic-Free Stores Showing The Big Brands How To Do It (G.)

 

 

Coordinated efforts to crash the conomy. Ignore the recovery narrative.

Japan and Europe Start the Central Bank Reset (BBG)

This is going to be an exciting year for monetary policy. In fact, it already is, thanks to Europe and Japan. Investors were taken aback last week when the Bank of Japan bought fewer bonds and the ECB revealed – shock, horror – its language would have to evolve with the euro region’s economy. Both developments, and the reaction, were welcome. They say a lot about the strength of global growth and how it still surprises many people. First to Japan: Investors were wrong to interpret the reduced purchases as a sign that a policy shift is imminent. They were, however, right about the long-term direction of policy. It isn’t going to get looser. Will it remain accommodative as far as the eye can see? Yes.

With Japan’s economic sunny patch extending and inflation headed in the right direction – if still way too low – it’s not a stretch to see Governor Haruhiko Kuroda or his successor ease up a little on the stimulus. Just not right now. That was Jan. 9. Two days later, the fever struck in Europe. The proximate cause was the release of minutes from the ECB’s December meeting and the implication contained therein that communications would have to reflect a stronger growth terrain and improving, albeit still low, inflation. The euro jumped and German bond yields climbed. It feels like we just got through a big change from the ECB: the taper of bond purchases to 30 billion euros a month until September. (Remember when officials hated the word “taper”?) Now, here were policymakers flagging further revisions.

What’s the thread linking these two happenings? Despite all the data and pronouncements about a robust global economy and a synchronized upswing, people are still taken aback by signs that (a) it’s a reality and (b) policy is bound to react. I’m not saying policy is going to change overnight. But if you start with a global framework – we are in a global marketplace, are we not? – key to that framework really ought to be the direction of policy. Ask yourself: Are monetary chieftains going to make policy more easy or less easy, assuming the upswing in growth is sustainable? The answer has to be “less.”

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Because it’s by far the biggest, and it’s a debt bubble, not a gossip one.

The Bubble That Could Break the World (Rickards)

The credit-driven bubble has a different dynamic than a narrative-bubble. If professional investors and brokers can borrow money at 3%, invest in stocks earning 5%, and leverage 3-to-1, they can earn 6% returns on equity plus healthy capital gains that can boost the total return to 10% or higher. Even greater returns are possible using off-balance sheet derivatives. Credit bubbles don’t need a narrative or a good story. They just need easy money. A narrative bubble bursts when the story changes. It’s exactly like The Emperor’s New Clothes where loyal subjects go along with the pretense that the emperor is finely dressed until a little boy shouts out that the emperor is actually naked. Psychology and behavior change in an instant.

When investors realized in 2000 that Pets.com was not the next Amazon but just a sock-puppet mascot with negative cash flow, the stock crashed 98% in 9 months from IPO to bankruptcy. The sock-puppet had no clothes. A credit bubble bursts when the credit dries up. The Fed won’t raise interest rates just to pop a bubble — they would rather clean up the mess afterwards that try to guess when a bubble exists in the first place. But the Fed will raise rates for other reasons, including the illusory Phillips Curve that assumes a tradeoff between low unemployment and high inflation, currency wars, inflation or to move away from the zero bound before the next recession. It doesn’t matter. Higher rates are a case of “taking away the punch bowl” and can cause a credit bubble to burst.

The other leading cause of bursting credit bubbles is rising credit losses. Higher credit losses can emerge in junk bonds (1989), emerging markets (1998), or commercial real estate (2008). Credit crack-ups in one sector lead to tightening credit conditions in all sectors and lead in turn to recessions and stock market corrections. What type of bubble are we in now? What signs should investors look for to gauge when this bubble will burst? My starting hypothesis is that we are in a credit bubble, not a narrative bubble. There is no dominant story similar to the Nifty Fifty or dot.com days. Investors do look at traditional valuation metrics rather than invented substitutes contained in corporate press releases and Wall Street research. But even traditional valuation metrics can turn on a dime when the credit spigot is turned off.

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BTC recovered somewhat overnight.

South Korea Considers Shutting Down Domestic Cryptocurrency Exchanges (R.)

South Korean policymakers joined the global chorus of virtual-coin critics on Thursday, saying Seoul is considering shutting down domestic virtual currency exchanges as the new breed of market exposes users to speculative frenzy and crime. The country’s tough stance comes as policymakers from the United States to Germany struggle to come up with stricter regulation against money laundering and other crimes. Responding to questions in parliament, South Korea’s chief of the Financial Services Commission said: “(The government) is considering both shutting down all local virtual currency exchanges or just the ones who have been violating the law.” Separately, Bank of Korea Governor Lee Ju-yeol told a news conference that “cryptocurrency is not a legal currency and is not being used as such as of now.”

Regulators around the world are still debating how to address risks posed by cryptocurrencies, as bitcoin, the world’s most popular virtual currency, soared more than 1,700% last year. Prices have plummeted since South Korea announced last week it may ban domestic cryptocurrency exchanges. On Wednesday, bitcoin slid 18%. According to Bithumb, South Korea’s second-largest virtual currency exchange, the nation’s bitcoin trading price stood at 15,697,000 won ($14,690.69) as of 0314 GMT on Thursday. On the Luxembourg-based Bitstamp exchange, bitcoin was traded at $11,750. [..] On Thursday, the BOK governor said the central bank had begun looking into the market’s impact on the economy. “We have started looking at virtual currency from a long-term standpoint, as central banks could start issuing digital currencies in the future. This sort of research has begun at the Bank of International Settlements and we are part of that research.”

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“Studies have shown that over 90% of the media’s coverage of President Trump is negative…”

Trump Reveals Winners Of Controversial ‘Fake News Awards’ (AFP)

Donald Trump unveiled the winners of his much-touted “Fake News Awards” late Wednesday, escalating his already persistent attacks on a number of major US media outlets. The awards dropped hours after a senator from Trump’s own Republican party hurled a stinging rebuke at the president, accusing the US leader of undermining the free press with Stalinist language. The brash Republican president announced the ten “honorees” using his preferred medium of Twitter, linking to a list published on the Republican Party’s website that crashed minutes after his big reveal. The “winners” of the spoof awards included top networks and newspapers CNN, The New York Times and The Washington Post, all of which have been regular targets of Trump’s ire.

Nobel-prize winning economist Paul Krugman, who writes a regular opinion column for The New York Times, nabbed the number one spot. The administration said he merited the award for writing “on the day of President Trump’s historic, landslide victory that the economy would never recover.” Following the former reality star’s stunning rise to power, Krugman had written that Trump’s inexperience on economic policy and unpredictability risked further damaging the weak global economy. The list also pointed to a reporting error from ABC’s veteran reporter Brian Ross, who was suspended for four weeks without pay after he was forced to correct a bombshell report on ex-Trump aide Michael Flynn.

[..] 11. And last, but not least: “RUSSIA COLLUSION!” Russian collusion is perhaps the greatest hoax perpetrated on the American people. THERE IS NO COLLUSION!

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“We’re talking about big damages. We’re talking about numbers that you haven’t even thought about,” Trump said.”

Trump Considers Big ‘Fine’ Over China Intellectual Property Theft (R.)

President Donald Trump said on Wednesday the United States was considering a big “fine” as part of a probe into China’s alleged theft of intellectual property, the clearest indication yet that his administration will take retaliatory trade action against China. In an interview with Reuters, Trump and his economic adviser Gary Cohn said China had forced U.S. companies to transfer their intellectual property to China as a cost of doing business there. The United States has started a trade investigation into the issue, and Cohn said the United States Trade Representative would be making recommendations about it soon. “We have a very big intellectual property potential fine going, which is going to come out soon,” Trump said in the interview.

While Trump did not specify what he meant by a “fine” against China, the 1974 trade law that authorized an investigation into China’s alleged theft of U.S. intellectual property allows him to impose retaliatory tariffs on Chinese goods or other trade sanctions until China changes its policies. Trump said the damages could be high, without elaborating on how the numbers were reached or how the costs would be imposed. “We’re talking about big damages. We’re talking about numbers that you haven’t even thought about,” Trump said.

U.S. businesses say they lose hundreds of billions of dollars in technology and millions of jobs to Chinese firms which have stolen ideas and software or forced them to turn over intellectual property as part of the price of doing business in China. The president said he wanted the United States to have a good relationship with China, but Beijing needed to treat the United States fairly. Trump said he would be announcing some kind of action against China over trade and said he would discuss the issue during his State of the Union address to the U.S. Congress on Jan. 30. Asked about the potential for a trade war depending on U.S. action over steel, aluminum and solar panels, Trump said he hoped a trade war would not ensue. “I don’t think so, I hope not. But if there is, there is,” he said.

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This is not going to work. It’s a one way ticket back to Mao.

China’s Communists Take More Stakes In Private Companies (BBG)

After tightening the Communist Party’s grip on state-owned enterprises, President Xi Jinping’s administration is signaling an increasing presence in private companies. Xi has called state enterprises the “backbone” of China’s socialist economy. But most of the giants were founded before the boom in technology-driven industries over the past two decades. That’s created a large swathe of the economy that’s largely private – think tech and consumer champions like Alibaba, Tencent and Baidu, along with innovators in sectors from finance to automation. Now, SOEs are on track to take stakes in private companies. “China wants to maintain state control over every aspect of the national economy, and it needs to keep up with the changes in the economic structure,” said Chen Li at Credit Suisse.

“How can it overlook the most important industries to the future economy?” Much of the overhaul of state-owned enterprises under Xi has focused on a consolidation in the hundreds of sprawling units across the country, such as those that have reshaped the shipping and train-making industries. But a lesser-noticed part of the broad “mixed ownership” initiative features SOEs being encouraged to take stakes in private companies. This part of the initiative has yet to gather pace, though equity strategists anticipate moves to come. They would showcase how China continues to develop its own path toward developed-nation status – not entirely state dominated, but with more control by political authorities than in countries like France that have nurtured state champions.

The head of the Beijing agency that oversees China’s SOEs, Xiao Yaqing, reiterated the push in a People’s Daily article on state enterprise reforms Dec. 13. The private stakes will be acquired through various means, he and other top officials have said. The mechanism has already been applied in the case of the state’s crackdown on financier Xiao Jianhua’s Tomorrow Holding empire. The government ordered the holding company to divest from many of its financial assets, people with knowledge of the matter said this month. State-owned Citic Guoan Group Co. bought a $1.4 billion stake in Hengtou Securities – known as Hengtai on the mainland – with a large part of the purchase coming from Tomorrow Group. Investors applauded the move, in a sign of what could happen when the state invests elsewhere. Hengtou has jumped more than 20% this year after announcing the stake sale.

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More Trump success.

Apple Expects to Pay $38 Billion Tax on Repatriated Cash (BBG)

Apple said it will bring hundreds of billions of overseas dollars back to the U.S., pay about $38 billion in taxes on the money and invest tens of billions on domestic jobs, manufacturing and data centers in the coming years. The iPhone maker plans capital expenditures of $30 billion in the U.S. over five years and will create 20,000 new jobs at existing sites and a new campus it intends to open, the Cupertino, California-based company said Wednesday in a statement. “We are focusing our investments in areas where we can have a direct impact on job creation and job preparedness,” Chief Executive Officer Tim Cook said in the statement, which alluded to unspecified plans by the company to accelerate education programs.

In its December approval of the most extensive tax-code revisions since 1986, Congress scrapped the previous international tax system for corporations — an unusual arrangement that allowed companies to defer U.S. income taxes on foreign earnings until they returned the income to the U.S. That “deferral” provision led companies to stockpile an estimated $3.1 trillion offshore. By switching to a new system that’s designed to focus on domestic economic activity, congressional tax writers also imposed a two-tiered levy on that accumulated foreign income: Cash will be taxed at 15.5%, less liquid assets at 8%. Companies can pay over eight years. Apple has the largest offshore cash reserves of any U.S. company, with about $252 billion in at the end of September, the most recently reported fiscal quarter.

The company, which opened a new headquarters in Cupertino last year, said it also plans to open another site in the U.S. focused initially on employees who provide technical support to Apple product users. Apple said it will announce the location of the new campus at a later date. The company already has a sprawling campus in Austin, Texas, for supply chain and technical support employees.

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Or maybe not.

Apple May Not Hire 20,000 New Workers, or Bring Back Its Overseas Cash (MW)

Apple announced a series of plans Wednesday that were celebrated as promises to hire thousands of workers and bring home billions of dollars in cash. Well, not necessarily. Apple said in its release that the company planned to “create over 20,000 new jobs through hiring at existing campuses and opening a new one.” The key word there is “create,” which Apple really likes to use when discussing jobs: The company even has a portion of its website dedicated to “job creation” that claims it is “responsible for 2 million jobs” in the United States, most of which are jobs “attributable to the App Store ecosystem.” Apple currently employs 84,000 people in the U.S., it said Wednesday, while an October filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission said that it has a total of 132,000 full-time employees worldwide, suggesting that about a third of its employees work abroad.

A quarter of the 2 million jobs Apple claims responsibility for are positions through Apple’s U.S.-based suppliers. “From the people who manufacture components for our products to the people who distribute and deliver them, Apple directly or indirectly supports hundreds of thousands of U.S. jobs,” Apple says on the page. [..] Many also took Apple’s promise to pay $38 billion in repatriation taxes as a promise that Apple would bring home more than a quarter-trillion dollars it currently has overseas. However, Apple does not have to bring home that money, and much of it is tied up in long-term investments that would make it unlikely. The company has to pay taxes on overseas earnings whether it brings the money back to the United States or not, so paying the tax does not mean the money is coming home.

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What I wrote about last week: “digital super states” like Facebook and Google have been working to “re-establish discourse control”.

Assange Keeps Warning Of AI Censorship (CJ)

In a statement that was recently read during the “Organising Resistance to Internet Censorship” webinar, sponsored by the World Socialist Web Site, Assange warned of how “digital super states” like Facebook and Google have been working to “re-establish discourse control”, giving authority over how ideas and information are shared back to those in power. Assange went on to say that the manipulative attempts of world power structures to regain control of discourse in the information age has been “operating at a scale, speed, and increasingly at a subtlety, that appears likely to eclipse human counter-measures.”

What this means is that using increasingly more advanced forms of artificial intelligence, power structures are becoming more and more capable of controlling the ideas and information that people are able to access and share with one another, hide information which goes against the interests of those power structures and elevate narratives which support those interests, all of course while maintaining the illusion of freedom and lively debate. In an appearance via video link at musician and activist M.I.A.’s Meltdown Festival last June, the WikiLeaks editor-in-chief expounded in far more detail about his thoughts on the potential for artificial intelligence to be used for controlling online information and discourse in a way human intelligence can’t hope to keep up with.

Pointing out how AI can already outmaneuver even the greatest chess players in the world, he describes how programs which can operate with exponentially more tactical intelligence than the human intellect can manipulate the field of available information so effectively and subtly that people won’t even know they are being manipulated. People will be living in a world that they think they understand and know about, but they’ll unknowingly be viewing only establishment-approved information. “When you have AI programs harvesting all the search queries and YouTube videos someone uploads it starts to lay out perceptual influence campaigns, twenty to thirty moves ahead,” Assange said. “This starts to become totally beneath the level of human perception.”

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Sell sell sell.

Australia’s Household Debt-to-Income Ratio Reaches 200% (AFR)

The closely tracked Australian household debt-to-income ratio has now reached the 200% level, and analysts at UBS are concerned about rising pressures among borrowers. The increase was because of the Australian Bureau of Statistics revision to include self-managed superannuation debt. That resulted in a 3% rise in household debt from “extremely elevated levels”, and pushed the ratio to income to 199.7%, “one of the highest in the world,” according to UBS. “With subdued growth in household income expected to continue, this implies household leverage is likely to rise further in the near term,” it said. “As a result we expect total household debt to disposable income to peak around 205% before the slow deleveraging process begins.”

High household debt levels will constrain further borrowing and weigh on prospects for earnings growth at the big banks, analysts Jonathan Mott and Rachel Bentvelzen said as they downgraded their forecasts for housing credit growth. House prices, which have begun to decline in Sydney, are expected to slide further as a result of tighter lending standards, the retreat of foreign buyers, lending limits imposed by regulators and concerns about proposed changes to negative gearing and capital gains tax that have been tabled by the Opposition. “Sentiment for investment into the housing market is waning, with the ‘fear of missing out’ euphoria fading quickly, especially in Sydney,” the analysts said in a note to clients.

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The insanity of today.

Mario Draghi Told To Drop Membership Of Secretive Bankers’ Club (G.)

The president of the European Central Bank has been told by the EU’s watchdog he should drop his membership of a secretive club of corporate bankers, after claims the group had been given an inside seat from which it could influence key policies. Following a year-long investigation, Mario Draghi was informed on Wednesday by the European ombudsman, Emily O’Reilly, that his close relationship with the Washington-based G30 group threatened the reputation of the bank, despite his assurances to the contrary. Members of the exclusive club, of which only two of the current 33 are women, are chosen by an anonymous board of trustees, it emerged during the ombudsman’s investigation. Only the identity of the chair of the trustees, Jacob A Frenkel, the chairman of JPMorgan Chase, has been made public.

O’Reilly noted the group’s secrecy and lack of transparency over the content of its meetings. She additionally called for a ban on all future presidents of the ECB taking up membership of the club, previously named the Consultative Group on International Economic and Monetary Affairs. The ruling followed a complaint by the Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO), a Brussels-based NGO, which claimed Draghi’s close relationship to G30 was in contravention of the ECB’s ethical code. During his presidency of the ECB, Draghi, an Italian economist who previously worked at Goldman Sachs, has attended four G30 meetings, in 2012, 2013 and twice in 2015.

O’Reilly said there was a danger that the bank’s independence could be perceived to have been compromised by Draghi’s involvement with the group, whose members include a number of central bank governors, private sector bankers and academics. The governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney, is a member. But O’Reilly said there was no evidence of sensitive information being shared. The ombudsman said: “The ECB takes decisions that directly affect the lives of millions of citizens. In the aftermath of the financial crisis, and in consideration of the additional powers given to the ECB in recent years to supervise member state banks in the public interest, it is important to demonstrate to that public that there is a clear separation between the ECB as supervisor and the finance industry which is affected by its decisions.”

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Not one word about emissions. Not one. Oh wait, “continuous improvements to its safety, security, efficiency and environmental footprint “. Pants on fire.

Global Air Traffic At New Record (AFP)

Budget carriers continued to push global air traffic to new record levels last year, the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) said on Wednesday. Scheduled air services carried “a new record” of 4.1 billion passengers in 2017, an increase of 7.1% over the previous year, ICAO said, citing preliminary data. The figure compares with 6% growth in 2016. “The sustainability of the tremendous growth in international civil air traffic is demonstrated by the continuous improvements to its safety, security, efficiency and environmental footprint,” ICAO Council president Olumuyiwa Benard Aliu said in a statement from the Montreal-based agency.

Early this month, two industry studies showed that last year was the safest for civil aviation since plane crash statistics were first compiled in 1946. A total of 10 crashes of civil passenger and cargo planes claimed 44 lives, said the Aviation Safety Network. A separate report from the To70 agency said no major airline crashed a plane in 2017. ICAO, a United Nations agency, said Wednesday that low-cost carriers flew an estimated 1.2 billion passengers or about 30% of the global total last year. The budget airline sector “consistently grew at a faster pace compared to the world average growth, and its market share continued to increase, specifically in emerging economies,” ICAO said.

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Missed opportunity: including the emissions of electric cars.

Europe’s Microwave Ovens Emit Nearly As Much CO2 As 7 Million Cars (G.)

Popping frozen peas into the microwave for a couple of minutes may seem utterly harmless, but Europe’s stock of these quick-cook ovens emit as much carbon as nearly 7m cars, a new study has found. And the problem is growing: with costs falling and kitchen appliances becoming “status” items, owners are throwing away microwaves after an average of eight years, pushing rising sales. A study by the University of Manchester worked out the emissions of carbon dioxide – the main greenhouse gas responsible for climate change – at every stage of microwaves, from manufacture to waste disposal. “It is electricity consumption by microwaves that has the biggest impact on the environment,” say the authors.

“Efforts to reduce consumption should focus on improving consumer awareness and behaviour to use appliances more efficiently. For example, electricity consumption by microwaves can be reduced by adjusting the time of cooking to the type of food.” Each year more microwaves are sold than any other type of oven in the EU: annual sales are expected to reach 135m by the end of the decade. David Reay, professor of carbon management at the University of Edinburgh, pointed out that the damage done by microwaves is still a fraction of that done by cars. “Yes, there are a lot of microwaves in the EU, and yes they use electricity,” he said.

“But their emissions are dwarfed by those from cars – there are around 30m cars in the UK alone and these emit way more than all the emissions from microwaves in the EU. Latest data show that passenger cars in the UK emitted 69m tonnes of CO2 equivalent in 2015. This is ten times the amount this new microwave oven study estimates for annual emissions for all the microwave ovens in the whole of the EU.” The energy used by microwaves is lower than any other form of cooking. uSwitch, the price comparison website, lists microwaves as the most energy efficient, followed by a hob and finally an oven, advising readers to buy a microwave if they don’t have one. However, they urge owners to switch them off at the wall after use, to avoid powering the clock.

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The Guardian can try to chest thump as much as it wants, but it too got triggered for real only through David Attenborough’s Blue Planet II, just like Theresa may et al.

1 Million Tonnes A Year: UK Supermarkets Shamed For Plastic Packaging (G.)

Britain’s leading supermarkets create more than 800,000 tonnes of plastic packaging waste every year, according to an investigation by the Guardian which reveals how top chains keep details of their plastic footprint secret. As concern over the scale of unnecessary plastic waste grows, the Guardian asked Britain’s eight leading supermarkets to explain how much plastic packaging they sell to consumers and whether they would commit to a plastic-free aisle in their stores. The chains have to declare the amount of plastic they put on the market annually under an EU directive. But the information is kept secret, and Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Morrisons, Waitrose, Asda and Lidl all refused the Guardian’s request, with most saying the information was “commercially sensitive”. None committed to setting up plastic-free aisles – something the prime minister called for last week.

Only two supermarkets, Aldi and the Co-op, were open about the amount of plastic packaging they put on to the market. Using their data, and other publicly available market share information, environmental consultants Eunomia estimated that the top supermarkets are creating a plastic waste problem of more than 800,000 tonnes each year – well over half of all annual UK household plastic waste of 1.5m tonnes. The 800,000 tonnes of waste from food and beverage products would fill enough large 10-yard skips to extend from London to Sydney, or cover the whole of Greater London to a depth of 2.5cm. The revelations will add to mounting public concern about the damage that plastic does to the natural world. The Guardian has already revealed the vertiginous growth in plastic production, and the heavy environmental toll it exacts.

Dominic Hogg, chairman of Eunomia, said the figures could be higher. “The data reported for plastic packaging put on the market as a whole is an underestimate in our view,” said Hogg. Supermarkets in the UK keep their plastic footprint secret with a confidentiality agreement signed with the agencies involved in the British recycling compliance scheme. It means the amount of plastic packaging created by each supermarket and the money they pay towards its recycling is kept out of the public domain. One leading supermarket manager is calling for the whole system to be made more transparent and targeted to make the irresponsible producers pay more. Iain Ferguson, head of sustainability at the Co-op, said Britain should adopt the French system of “bonus-malus”, where supermarkets are taxed more for using material which is not easily recyclable and less for sustainable and recyclable packaging.

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And it really is this simple.

The Plastic-Free Stores Showing The Big Brands How To Do It (G.)

In the past few weeks Richard Eckersley has noticed a change in the type of people who come into his shop. The former Manchester United footballer, who turned his back on the game to set up the the UK’s first “zero waste” store on Totnes high street in Devon, says it is no longer only committed environmentalists who pop in, looking for a cleaner way to shop. “We thought January might be a bit quieter but it has been crazy,” says Eckersley, who set up the Earth.Food.Love shop with his wife Nicola in March. “A lot of new people are coming in – people who have not necessarily been involved in green issues before … it really feels like this [concern about plastic waste] is starting to break out of the environmental bubble.”

Last week Theresa May put cutting plastic pollution at the heart of the government’s 25-year environmental plan, and although critics said it was short on detail she did call for supermarkets to introduce plastic-free aisles to offer customers more choice. But Eckersley says many consumers are already way ahead of politicians. He and his wife have helped people who are planning to set up similar stores in Wales, Birmingham and Bristol. “We are getting calls every week from around the country from people wanting to set up something similar in their towns … it feels like this has really tapped into something that is growing all the time.” More than 200 miles away, Ingrid Caldironi shares the enthusiasm. She set up the plastic-free Bulk Market in east London last year. It has proven so popular that it is now moving to bigger, permanent premises at the end of the month.

“We have had an amazing response, especially in the last couple of months,” she says. Eckersley and Caldironi are at the vanguard of a burgeoning anti-plastics movement in the UK that has been fuelled by newspaper investigations including the Guardian’s Bottling It series, the Blue Planet television series and a general alarm at the damage plastic is doing to the natural environment. But their enthusiasm is not shared by big supermarkets, which have thus far shown little inclination to reduce their plastic waste. “For a nation of shopkeepers we are lagging behind in this race,” says Sian Sutherland, founder of the campaign A Plastic Planet which led the calls for plastic-free aisles. “The most exciting thing is that politicians and industry are no longer claiming that we can recycle our way out of the plastic problem,” she added. “Banning the use of indestructible plastic packaging for food and drink products is the only answer.”

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