May 222019
 


James Ensor The oyster eater 1882

 

Mueller Refuses To Testify Publicly Before Congress (ZH)
Democrats’ Impeachment Divide Tests Pelosi (NPR)
We’ve Hit a New Low in Campaign Hit Pieces (Matt Taibbi)
US ‘Sees Signs’ Damascus ‘May’ Have Used Chlorine In Idlib (RT)
EU Despairs At Emptiness Of May’s Latest Brexit Offer (G.)
UN Report Compares Tory Welfare Policies To Creation Of Workhouses (G.)
The Assange/Manning Cases Discredit Humanity (PCR)
Will FAA’s Plan For 737 MAX Fly Outside US? (AFP)
Chinese Airlines Seek Boeing Compensation Over 737 MAX Grounding (R.)
Tesla Stock ‘Bear Case’ Is $10 – Morgan Stanley (MW)
IMF Admits ‘Notable Failures’ In Bailout Deepened Greek Recession (KTG)
Netherlands Becomes First AAA Rated Sovereign To Launch Green Bond (R.)

 

 

Nobody wants to talk to these people anymore. Because it’s become a circus act.

Mueller Refuses To Testify Publicly Before Congress (ZH)

With most Congressional Democrats still stunned from the anticlimatic publication of Mueller’s “Russiagate” report, which found that Trump did not collude with Russia, many have been desperate to hear Mueller’s side of the story perhaps in hopes that he will unveil some smoking gun in public (something he failed to do in his report) while the others have quietly turned on Mueller, asking why after a two year probe, he failed to put Trump behind bars. And now, after the latest development in the never-ending Russia “witch hunt” to paraphrase the president, it won’t be long before virtually all Democrats are convinced that Mueller himself must also a Putin plant.

According to Bloomberg, which cites three people familiar with the special counsel’s position, Robert Mueller has balked at testifying publicly before Congress, pushing instead for a closed-door appearance in negotiations with House Democrats. Why? Because Mueller, who was the center of a media and political circus for no less than two years has told the Democratic-controlled House Judiciary Committee that – get this – he doesn’t want to be dragged into a political fight and that he’s hesitant to publicly discuss his final report. Among the options Mueller has raised is making a public statement before the committee questions him in private, the people said. But why if he has nothing to hide, and if all the results of his multi-million probe were disclosed in his report?

As a reminder, the NYT and WaPo recently sparked more Russiagate drama, when they reported that Mueller had written AG William Barr to complain that he’s given summaries of the report’s findings that “did not fully capture the context, nature and substance” of his team’s work. A more detailed read of the report also revealed that Mueller did not actually have complaints about Barr’s representation of his lengthy report but was instead bashing the media – such as the NYT and WaPo. As the WaPo reported earlier, Mueller III and House Democrats “have been unable to reach an agreement on how much of the special counsel’s expected congressional testimony would be public, and how much would take place in private, according to people familiar with the matter.”

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Impeachment as a simple political tool: not so much because they want to impeach the president, but because it would give them added powers. Shaky.

Democrats’ Impeachment Divide Tests Pelosi (NPR)

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi will convene a meeting Wednesday morning to hear from Democrats on whether to move forward with impeachment proceedings against President Trump. Pelosi, a public skeptic of impeachment, is confronting a rising tide of support for it among rank-and-file House Democrats and members of her own leadership team. Democrats are outraged by the Trump administration’s ongoing effort to stymie congressional oversight into the president, his administration, and the findings in special counsel Robert Mueller’s report. “She’s hearing the views of the caucus, and listening to different perspectives and we’re having that debate,” said Rep. Seth Moulton, D-Mass., who is running for president.

Moulton supports opening an impeachment inquiry based on the argument being made by a number of Democrats that it gives the House a stronger legal hand in securing documents, testimony and cooperation from the Trump administration. “I don’t think there’s any question but there’s a growing realization in the caucus that impeachment is inevitable. It’s not a question of if but when,” said Rep. John Yarmuth, D-Ky., a member of the leadership’s whip team. Yarmuth said the administration’s “blanket resistance” to their oversight efforts is changing the calculation. “I think the speaker is right that these investigations need to go on. I don’t think they should go on interminably,” he said, adding that he expected a decision on impeachment to be made by the end of the summer.

Yarmuth and other top leaders have characterized those pushing for impeachment as a small but growing minority dissatisfied with Pelosi’s focus on traditional committee investigations. The group largely confined their frustrations to closed-door sessions until recently. “I think what is happening is that the initial aim was to investigate and then see what we had. The problem is we can’t get any information. The president is blocking us,” House Oversight and Reform Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings, D-Md., said. “I think we’re in a position where we’re moving more and more towards [impeachment] because he’s not leaving us with any choices. You don’t have any choices.” Cummings maintained that moving ahead with impeachment could assist their efforts. “Once you file for impeachment you’re under a whole new different set of rules. And you have a much broader opportunity to get things.”

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This should test Pelosi a lot more than the impeachment stuff.

We’ve Hit a New Low in Campaign Hit Pieces (Matt Taibbi)

Last week, the Daily Beast ran this headline: “Tulsi Gabbard’s Campaign Is Being Boosted by Putin Apologists” That was followed by the sub headline: “The Hawaii congresswoman is quickly becoming the top candidate for Democrats who think the Russian leader is misunderstood.” The Gabbard campaign has received 75,000 individual donations. This crazy Beast article is based on (maybe) three of them. The three names are professor Stephen Cohen, activist Sharon Tennison and someone using the name “Goofy Grapes,” who may or may not have once worked for comedian Lee Camp, currently employed by Russia Today. This vicious little article might have died a quiet death, except ABC’s George Stephanopoulos regurgitated it in an interview with Gabbard days later.

The This Week host put up the Beast headline in a question about whether or not Gabbard was “softer” on Putin than other candidates. Gabbard responded: “It’s unfortunate that you’re citing that article, George, because it’s a whole lot of fake news.” This in turn spurred another round of denunciations, this time in the form of articles finding fault not with the McCarthyite questioning, but with Gabbard’s answer. As Politico wrote: “’Fake news’ is a favorite phrase of President Donald Trump…” Soon CNN was writing a similar piece, saying Gabbard was using a term Trump used to “attack the credibility of negative coverage.” CNN even said Gabbard “did not specify what in the article was ‘fake,’” as if the deceptive and insidious nature of this kind of guilt-by-association report needs explaining.

“Stephanopoulos shamelessly implied that because I oppose going to war with Russia, I’m not a loyal American, but a Putin puppet,” Gabbard told Rolling Stone. “It just shows what absurd lengths warmongers in the media will go, to try to destroy the reputation of anyone who dares oppose their warmongering.”

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With the leaked file from an OPCW expert discrediting the Douma report, it’s time to double down: a new false flag casts doubt on last year’s file as well. 2 for the price of 1.

Or you could say: it’s another Syria chemical attack accusation! It must be spring then!

US ‘Sees Signs’ Damascus ‘May’ Have Used Chlorine In Idlib (RT)

The US State Department has accused the Syrian government of a recent chemical attack and threatened it with a ‘quick and appropriate’ response – while admitting it has little information to substantiate the allegations.
In a statement on Tuesday, Washington alleged that the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad is likely to be found responsible for allegedly using chlorine to attack civilians in militant-controlled areas of Idlib province. “We continue to see signs that the Assad regime may be renewing its use of chemical weapons, including an alleged chlorine attack in northwest Syria on the morning of May 19, 2019,” the statement says. Despite the evident uncertainty, the State Department adopted the habitually threatening stance against Damascus.

“We are still gathering information on this incident, but we repeat our warning that if the Assad regime uses chemical weapons, the United States and our allies will respond quickly and appropriately.” The State Department also lashed out at Moscow for its efforts to expose the White Helmets, the self-proclaimed civil defense group that operates exclusively in militant-controlled areas and has been accused of associating with extremists and staging chemical attacks. Having invested heavily in the White Helmets along with other Western nations, Washington accused Moscow and Damascus of trying to “create the false narrative that others are to blame for chemical weapons attacks that the Assad regime itself is conducting.”

Meanwhile, according to the State Department, “the Assad regime’s culpability in horrific chemical weapons attacks is undeniable.” It just so happens that these latest claims come after a newly-surfaced report by an engineer from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) that calls into question the March OPCW report accusing Damascus of being behind the Douma chemical incident last April. The new report, which suggested that gas canisters were placed at the scene of the attack by hand, potentially by ‘rebel’ militants active in the area, went virtually unnoticed in the West. Several celebrity activists have called out the mainstream media over their lack of coverage.

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Delivering the country to Farage. May will be gone by June.

EU Despairs At Emptiness Of May’s Latest Brexit Offer (G.)

Theresa May’s “bold offer” to MPs ahead of a final vote on the Brexit deal consisted of a series of platitudes and the restatement of negotiating objectives that have already been rejected, EU officials said in response to the prime minister’s appeal to the Commons. As Conservative MPs who have previously voted in favour of the withdrawal agreement turned on May over the speech, the response in Brussels was one of despair at what was viewed as the emptiness of the prime minister’s proposals. Most significantly, the suggestion that the political declaration could be rewritten to emphasise the ability of the government to achieve something amounting to “frictionless trade” caused concern.


May appeared to suggest that the government’s policy was to seek a customs arrangement that delivers the same benefits as today along with the renewed ability to make independent trade deals. The alternative, May said, was a compromise position with Labour in which the government negotiated a temporary customs union on goods only which would include a UK say in relevant EU trade policy and an ability to change the arrangement following a general election.

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‘The UK’s social safety net has been “deliberately removed and replaced with a harsh and uncaring ethos..”

UN Report Compares Tory Welfare Policies To Creation Of Workhouses (G.)

A leading United Nations poverty expert has compared Conservative welfare policies to the creation of 19th-century workhouses and warned that unless austerity is ended, the UK’s poorest people face lives that are “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short”. In his final report on the impact of austerity on human rights in the UK, Philip Alston, the UN rapporteur on extreme poverty, accused ministers of being in a state of denial about the impact of policies, including the rollout of universal credit, since 2010. He accused them of the “systematic immiseration of a significant part of the British population” and warned that worse could be yet to come for the most vulnerable, who face “a major adverse impact” if Brexit proceeds.


He said leaving the EU was “a tragic distraction from the social and economic policies shaping a Britain that it’s hard to believe any political parties really want”. The New York-based lawyer’s findings, published on Wednesday, follows a two-week fact-finding mission in November after which he angered ministers by calling child poverty in Britain “not just a disgrace but a social calamity and an economic disaster”. Now he has accused them of refusing to debate the issues he raised and instead deploying “window dressing to minimise political fallout” by insisting the country is enjoying record lows in absolute poverty, children in workless households and low unemployment.

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Not PCR’s finest.

The Assange/Manning Cases Discredit Humanity (PCR)

No one has protested the open and highly visible effort to force Manning to commit perjury that can be used to build a case against Assange or otherwise be imprisoned for “contempt” and fined into penury. The despicable liberal-progressive-left whores that comprise the US print and TV media and NPR will not protest the injustice. They hate Manning and Assange for having more integrity than all of them together. The conservative talk radio hosts won’t protest the attempt to coerce Manning, because they love Trump, Washington’s wars, and hate “anti-Americans,” which is everyone who dares tell the truth about the US. On conservative talk radio on May 17, I heard one popular host say “I am happy Manning is in prison.”


No US senators or representatives and neither the Senate or House judiciary committee sees anything untoward in forcing an American citizen to produce the needed lies for framing up the world’s best journalist. Law schools and bar associations are not demanding the corrupt US attorney to be disbarred for violating every precept laid down by US Attorney General, Supreme Court Justice, and Nuremberg prosecutor Robert Jackson. Nor are they demanding the impeachment of the corrupt federal district judge, who perhaps has his eye on appointment to the appeals court for his cooperation in finishing off the First Amendment.

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It’s still only that software fix. For a hardware problem. Everybody better have some tough talks with their lawyers. One more fail and you’re going to prison.

They add an alert light for when the two sensors conflict. But that requires a third sensor.

Will FAA’s Plan For 737 MAX Fly Outside US? (AFP)

Getting Boeing’s top-selling 737 MAX back in the skies faces a critical test this week as the company and US regulators each seek to restore their reputations after two deadly crashes. The US Federal Aviation Administration convened a summit of global aviation regulators on Thursday to walk through the steps taken to address concerns with the MAX following criticism the agency dragged its feet on the decision to ground the jets. Most agencies around the world have said little or nothing about the situation since the 737 MAX was grounded .. So the gathering in Fort Worth, Texas is expected to provide clues as to whether the aviation safety authorities will be willing to set aside any skepticism about the FAA, which has not yet given the green light for the 737 MAX to fly again.


Regulators “are going to want a lot of explanation,” said Richard Aboulafia of the Teal Group. “We’re going to learn a lot.” The FAA would prefer to have other agencies quickly follow its lead — which previously would have been likely — but several aviation experts think that is improbable. Europe and Canada could follow the US by weeks in allowing the MAX jets to return to the skies. China is a wildcard. It was the first country to order the planes grounded in March, and has been sparring with the US for months over trade policy. The FAA said 57 agencies from 33 countries will attend the summit, including China, France, Germany, Britain, India, Indonesia and Ethiopia, as well as the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and the United Nation’s International Civil Aviation Organization.

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Nice one for the trade war.

Chinese Airlines Seek Boeing Compensation Over 737 MAX Grounding (R.)

China’s three biggest airlines have requested compensation from U.S. planemaker Boeing Co for losses incurred by the grounding and delayed deliveries of 737 MAX jets, as regulators gather to discuss design changes for the troubled aircraft. Chinese state television on Wednesday reported that Air China and China Southern Airlines have added their voices to a request from China Eastern Airlines Corp Ltd a day earlier. China was the first country to ground the 737 MAX globally after a crash in Ethiopia killed 157 people in March, in the second such incident for Boeing’s newest aircraft.


The compensation requests come as the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration hosts global regulators in Dallas on Thursday to review 737 MAX software and training proposals from Boeing before deciding whether and when to end the two-month grounding. The International Air Transport Association has convened a meeting of airlines with grounded 737 MAX jets for the same day in Montreal. Other carriers including Turkish Airlines, United Airlines, Ryanair and Flydubai have also asked Boeing for compensation.

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From $205 now.

Tesla Stock ‘Bear Case’ Is $10 – Morgan Stanley (MW)

Tesla Inc. shares slid further on Tuesday after analysts at Morgan Stanley said their worst-case scenario for the stock is $10, mostly on concerns about faltering demand and worries that the Silicon Valley car maker might have grown “too big.” Analysts led by Adam Jonas kept their rating on Tesla stock their equivalent of neutral. The $10 “bear case” was revised from $97, and the analysts’ “bull case” is $391. Tesla shares ended 0.1% lower at $205.08 on Tuesday after trading as low as $196.04 during the session. The stock has been caught in a technical downdraft and a fresh volley of Wall Street criticism amid the company’s attempts to curb expenses and keep growing.


Tesla bonds went the way of the shares, and the 2025 bonds recently traded at 82.919 cents on the dollar to yield 8.932%, according to trading platform MarketAxess. On a spread basis, the notes were 676 basis points over Treasurys, 35 basis points wider on the day.

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But nobody’s to blame except the Greeks.

IMF Admits ‘Notable Failures’ In Bailout Deepened Greek Recession (KTG)

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has admitted “notable failures” in the first Greek bailout including a deeper-than-expected recession, a run on the country’s banking system and exceptionally high unemployment. The IMF’s Review of Program Design and Conditionality provides a deep look into the design of 133 IMF-supported lending programs in operation between September 2011 and December 2017. The IMF research paper said the multi-billion rescue package for Greece failed to restore market confidence, that the fiscal adjustment proramme had notable failures, wrong projections and overlook. It also admitted that delays in debt restructuring saved the foreign banks but it was of little help for Greece. The PSI of March 2012 did not help either.

The review also identified several factors that potentially inhibited programs from fully reaching their objectives. Overoptimistic economic forecasts reduced a program’s chances of success; accordingly, the review recommends using a more conservative approach to economic forecasts and providing deeper analyses of the impact that policies under the program could have on economic growth. More extensive contingency planning should also be included when designing programs. Public debt is a case in point. Debt sustainability improved in most cases where debt vulnerabilities started out high. In some programs, however, debt exceeded the Fund’s initial projection by considerable margins. Fund policies are already in place to deal with unsustainable debt in Fund-supported programs.

While any debt restructuring needs to be considered on a case-by-case basis, more careful diagnosis is essential—this means sharper tools for the IMF’s debt sustainability analysis are needed to reduce any bias in judgement when assessing debt. The review finds many programs applied fiscal adjustments that were less growth-friendly than initially envisaged. Fiscal adjustment tended to be achieved by cutting public investment, possibly curtailing future growth, rather than by lowering current spending or raising revenue. To be a more useful guide for the government’s fiscal policy, an IMF program could set more granular targets, like a floor for critical public investments.

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This is “get rich while you save the planet” idiocy. Don’t fall for it.

Netherlands Becomes First AAA Rated Sovereign To Launch Green Bond (R.)

The Netherlands became on Tuesday the first AAA-rated sovereign to offer investors a green bond, saying it would give preference to funds that prove their own environmentally friendly credentials. The government said it aimed to raise up to 6 billion euros ($6.7 billion) from the issue, although bankers said order books on the 20-year euro-denominated bond had climbed past 20 billion euros. The Netherlands follows euro zone peers Poland, France, Belgium and Ireland which have all sold green bonds. The initial price guidance was put in a range of 18 to 21 basis points (bps) over a benchmark German bond. The spread was finally set at 18 bps over, banking sources told Reuters.


The bond was offered at an auction in which there was no underwriting role for primary dealers and client bids were placed directly with the Dutch debt agency. Other euro zone sovereigns have issued green bonds via syndication. Investors and bankers said it was the first time they had seen the issuer, in this case the Dutch debt agency DTSA, explicitly prioritizing investors with green credentials and offering them a more favorable allocation. “That’s an interesting step,” said Ross Hutchison, a bond fund manager, at Aberdeen Standard Investments in Edinburgh. Investors who proved their green credentials will be given an additional allocation of up to 10%, which a banker said meant that a green investor placing an order for 50 million euros could expect to be allocated up to 55 million euros.

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Jun 182018
 
 June 18, 2018  Posted by at 8:15 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  16 Responses »


Paul Klee Pflanze und Fenster Stillleben 1927

 

The US Should Break The German Lock On The European Economy (CNBC)
Merkel Gets Extra Time To Reach Deal With EU Over Asylum Row (G.)
Eurozone Braces For Row With Greece Over Bailout Exit Terms (G.)
The Bigger Cryptocurrencies Get, The Worse They Perform: BIS (R.)
May’s NHS ‘Brexit Dividend’ Claim Draws Scepticism And Doubt (G.)
FARC Peace Deal At Risk As Conservative Duque Wins Colombia Presidency (AFP)
Bolivia’s Morales Condemns US Intervention in Venezuela, Latin America (TSur)
Russia-Syria Warnings of Coming False-Flag Attack Have Ring of Truth (MPN)
Refugee Camps Reopening On Greek Mainland (K.)
Scientists Scramble To Stop Bananas Being Killed Off (G.)
Losing The Buzz (ODT)
Where Have All Our Insects Gone? (G.)
Bringing Julian Assange Home (John Pilger)

 

 

There’s a thought.

The US Should Break The German Lock On The European Economy (CNBC)

Germany may only account for 3.4% of the world economy, but it is more than a quarter of the European Union’s demand and output. The EU, in turn, is close to 20% of the world economy, and, based on last year’s numbers, it takes $283.5 billion of U.S. exports, or 18.3% of America’s total goods sold overseas. What the U.S. sells to the EU is more than 40% of all the goods America exports to China and Japan. That shows that the damage caused to the U.S. economy transcends, by far, Germany’s surplus of $64.2 billion on American trades in 2017. Imagine, for example, what would happen to the EU economy, to the rest of the world — and to U.S. export sales in general — if Germany were not living off its fellow Europeans with a massive €164.4 billion trade surplus.

That German surplus is stifling the economic growth in the rest of Europe, because it is a deficit for countries trading with Germany. You can think of those €164.4 billion as a large wealth transfer to Germany. Indeed, it is a structural foundation of Germany’s export-driven economy, where sales to the rest of the world account for nearly a half of German GDP (compared with 14% in the U.S. case). What Europe, the U.S. and the rest of the world need here is a radical change of German economic policies. Germany should be generating more growth from domestic demand to give an opportunity to its trade partners to sell more of their goods and services on German markets. That would boost intra-European growth and create opportunities for more American sales to Europe — its largest overseas customer.

There is nothing new here. It’s a very old story Germans don’t even want to talk about. And why should they? France is meekly taking it on the chin with annual deficits of 36 to 41 billion euros on its German trades, and the rest of Europe does not dare question what it wrongly sees as a virtuously strong German economy.

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There will be no such deal. Not a comprehensive one.

Merkel Gets Extra Time To Reach Deal With EU Over Asylum Row (G.)

Germany’s interior minister, Horst Seehofer, has signalled he is open to giving Angela Merkel more time to reach a deal with Germany’s EU partners over an asylum row that has threatened to bring down her government. As the German chancellor met leaders of her Christian Democratic Union (CDU) on Sunday in an attempt to divert the collapse of her fledgling administration, Seehofer emerged from emergency talks with his Christian Social Union (CSU) saying he had no intention of toppling Merkel. Seehofer wants police stationed at borders to turn back refugees and migrants arriving from other EU countries but signalled he would give Merkel two weeks’ grace to reach migration agreements with EU partners.

“No one in the CSU is interested in bringing the chancellor down, or dissolving the CDU/CSU parliamentary partnership or destroying the coalition,” Seehofer told the Bild am Sonntag newspaper, adding that he did not want the asylum row to endanger the coalition government, which is less than 100 days old. Seehofer said his party was keen to find a way to limit the number of asylum seekers arriving in Germany. “We finally want to have a solution for the return of refugees at our borders which is fit for the future,” he added. But he was quoted in the Welt am Sonntag as having voiced his scepticism about the future of the CDU/CSU alliance in a meeting of the CSU’s leadership. “I cannot work with this woman any more,” he was quoted as saying.

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A row with the IMF, you mean.

Eurozone Braces For Row With Greece Over Bailout Exit Terms (G.)

Eurozone finance ministers are braced for a row this week with the Greek government over the terms of a “golden goodbye” as the country prepares to exit its third bailout programme. Concerns that Greece will suffer a fourth financial collapse unless an agreement is signed with the EU to write off some of its debt mountain are likely to surface before a showdown in Brussels on Thursday. The IMF, which has lent Greece several billion euros and has taken part in a tripartite monitoring of reforms with the European commission and ECB, is expected to pull out of the arrangement unless Brussels reduces Greece’s debt burden. Without the IMF on board, Germany and other hardline countries such as Finland and Austria could demand stricter clauses in the reform programme due to be imposed on Greece as the price of its final bailout payoff.

“Everyone has an interest to alleviating the burden, for Greece and the rest of the creditors,” said Olivier Bailly, the chief adviser to the EU’s finance commissioner, Pierre Moscovici. “If we leave too much burden, this will slow down Greece’s recovery.” He played down the impact of the IMF pulling out of the first stage of surveillance that will last until at least 2022. “What is important is that the IMF give its view on debt measures. What the markets expect is that it says they are credible enough,” he said, admitting that the lack of involvement by the Washington-based lender of last resort puts pressure on Germany. Finance ministers from the 19-member currency bloc will meet on Thursday to agree a package of measures that will include a final loan payment of between €10bn and €12bn and a cash buffer of up to €20bn. The payments are due to be the last of the €86bn bailout agreed in 2015.

[..] Hans Vijlbrief, the top EU official advising eurogroup ministers, said: “It’s very important that Greece can stand on its own feet. If it’s not credible, we won’t come out. This is the first condition.” The Eurogroup is seeking to reduce Greek debt payments by extending loans until beyond 2040 and reducing the interest rate to near 1%, well below the rate Greece would need to pay international investors. The IMF, however, has insisted that reducing the overall debt mountain from the outset is the only way to stabilise Athens’ public finances. Vijlbrief said the EU charter prevented the Eurogroup from offering debt write-offs, but this assertion has never been tested and is still the basis for IMF involvement in the next stage of Greece’s recovery.

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The bank of banks feels threatened.

The Bigger Cryptocurrencies Get, The Worse They Perform: BIS (R.)

Cryptocurrencies are not scalable and are more likely to suffer a breakdown in trust and efficiency the greater the number of people using them, the Bank of International Settlements (BIS)said on Sunday in its latest warning about the rise of virtual currencies. For any form of money to work across large networks it requires trust in the stability of its value and in its ability to scale efficiently, the BIS, an umbrella group for the world’s central banks, said in its annual report. But trust can disappear instantly because of the fragility of the decentralized networks on which cryptocurrencies depend, the BIS said.

Those networks are also prone to congestion the bigger they become, according to the BIS, which noted the high transaction fees of the best-known digital currency, bitcoin, and the limited number of transactions per second they can handle. “Trust can evaporate at any time because of the fragility of the decentralised consensus through which transactions are recorded,” the Switzerland-based group said in its report. “Not only does this call into question the finality of individual payments, it also means that a cryptocurrency can simply stop functioning, resulting in a complete loss of value.”

The BIS’ head of research, Hyun Song Shin, said sovereign money had value because it had users, but many people holding cryptocurrencies did so often purely for speculative purposes. “Without users, it would simply be a worthless token. That’s true whether it’s a piece of paper with a face on it, or a digital token,” he said, comparing virtual coins to baseball cards or Tamagotchi. [..] Agustin Carstens, general manager of the BIS, has described bitcoin as “a combination of a bubble, a Ponzi scheme and an environmental disaster”.

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The claim is so out there it’s funny.

May’s NHS ‘Brexit Dividend’ Claim Draws Scepticism And Doubt (G.)

Theresa May’s promise of £400m extra in weekly NHS spending within five years has been overshadowed by scepticism among experts and her own backbenchers over her claim it can be financed through a windfall delivered by Brexit. Ahead of a major speech by the prime minister in which she will pledge a £20bn annual real-terms NHS funding increase by 2023-24, May was ridiculed for arguing that some of the money would come from a so-called Brexit dividend. “At the moment, as a member of the European Union, every year we spend significant amounts of money on our subscription, if you like, to the EU,” she said in an interview on BBC One’s Andrew Marr show.

“When we leave we won’t be doing that. It’s right that we use that money to spend on our priorities, and the NHS is our number-one priority.” The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) said, however, that even the government had accepted the idea of an immediate post-Brexit boost to coffers would not happen. The decision to announce extra spending for the NHS and to frame it specifically as a benefit of leaving the EU has been widely seen as a sop by May to hardline Brexiters in her cabinet and on the Tory backbenches ahead of some potentially crucial votes this week on the EU withdrawal bill.

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Finally there’s peace, and now this. Colombia is set to become a NATO member.

FARC Peace Deal At Risk As Conservative Duque Wins Colombia Presidency (AFP)

Conservative Ivan Duque won Colombia’s presidential election Sunday after a campaign that turned into a referendum on a landmark 2016 peace deal with FARC rebels that he pledged to overhaul. Duque, 41, polled 54 percent to his leftist rival Gustavo Petro’s 42 percent with almost all the votes counted, electoral authority figures showed. Petro, a leftist former mayor and ex-guerrilla, supports the deal. Tensions over the deal became apparent in the immediate aftermath of Duque’s victory, after the president-elect lost no time in pledging “corrections” to the peace deal. “That peace we long for — that demands corrections — will have corrections, so that the victims are the center of the process, to guarantee truth, justice and reparation,” Duque told supporters in his victory speech at his campaign headquarters.

“The time has come to build real change,” Duque said, promising a future for Colombians “of lawfulness, freedom of enterprise and equity,” after decades of conflict. His vanquished opponent Petro promised to resist any fundamental changes to the deal. “Our role is not to be impotent and watch it being destroyed,” he said. FARC, which disarmed and transformed into a political party after the peace deal but did not contest the election, immediately called on Duque to show “good sense” in dealing with the agreement. “What the country demands is an integral peace, which will lead us to the hoped-for reconciliation,” the FARC said in a statement after Duque’s presidential win. The former rebels also called for an early meeting with Duque.

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A US supported coup soon?

Bolivia’s Morales Condemns US Intervention in Venezuela, Latin America (TSur)

Bolivian President Evo Morales said Saturday that Latin America “is no longer the United States’ backyard” while denouncing the United States’ attempt to convince its South American allies to help it orchestrate a military intervention or coup in Venezuela. In an interview with news agency EFE, Morales explained that several Latin American leaders have confided in him that U.S. Vice president Mike Pence is “trying to convince some United States-friendly countries” help them seize control of the South American country and replace the current government led by Nicolas Maduro. The real target, Morales explained, is not the Venezuelan president but “Venezuelan oil, and Venezuelans know that.”

Drawing parallels to 2011 military intervention in Libya, Morales said the U.S. isn’t interested in helping with alleged humanitarian crisis since, despite the current political and social turmoil in Libya, the U.S. will not intervene there since “the country’s oil is now owned by the U.S. and some European oil companies,” Morales asserted. “One military intervention (in the region) would only create another armed conflict,” he added pointing to Colombia’s membership in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) as a general sign of an escalation of “military aggression to all Latin America and the Caribbean” region. Morales explained, however, that U.S. interventionism is not only militaristic.

“When there are no military coups, they seek judicial or congressional coups” as in the case of former Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff’s impeachment and the Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva’s imprisonment, which is barring him from running in the upcoming 2018 elections.

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They warned of the last one as well.

Russia-Syria Warnings of Coming False-Flag Attack Have Ring of Truth (MPN)

In recent days, speculation has swirled regarding whether another chemical-weapons attack will soon take place in Syria, as sources in both Syrian intelligence and the Russian military have warned that U.S.-backed forces in the U.S.-occupied region of Deir ez-Zor are planning to stage a chemical weapons attack to be blamed on the Syrian government. Concern that such an event could soon take place has only grown since the U.S. government announcement this past Thursday that the U.S. would provide $6.6 million over the next year to fund the White Helmets, the controversial “humanitarian” group that has been accused of staging “false flag” chemical weapons attacks in the past.

Notably, the White Helmets were largely responsible for staging the recent alleged chlorine gas attack in Eastern Ghouta, which led the United States, the United Kingdom and France to attack Syrian government targets. That same attack in Eastern Ghouta had been predicted weeks prior by the Russian military and Syrian government, who are warning once again that a similar event is likely to occur in coming weeks. An additional and largely overlooked indication that another staged attack could soon take place has been the recent movements of U.S. military assets to the Syrian coast, particularly the deployment of the Harry S. Truman Carrier Strike Group (HSTCSG). As MintPress previously reported, the deployment of the HSTCSG – which consists of some 6,500 sailors — was first announced in April prior to the U.S., France and U.K. bombing of Syria. However, the group did not arrive until after that bombing had taken place.

While the April bombing was called a “one-time shot” by U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis, the fact that the Truman strike group’s deployment to the region was not canceled after the bombings occurred led some to suggest that the U.S. may have been anticipating more strikes against Syria’s government in the coming months. Indeed, soon after the U.S.-led bombing of Syria, U.S. Ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, declared the U.S. was “locked and loaded” should the Syrian government again be accused of using chemical weapons. Now, amid claims from both the Syrian and Russian governments of another chemical weapons provocation, as well as the U.S.’ renewed funding of the White Helmets, the strike group’s deployment directly off the Syrian coast has only given greater credence to those previously voiced concerns.

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12,000 refugees so far this year.

Refugee Camps Reopening On Greek Mainland (K.)

While European Union countries shut their doors to migrants – Italy and Malta last week refused to allow a rescue ship carrying more than 600 migrants to dock at their ports – Greek authorities are reopening unused camps and facilities across the mainland to accommodate the swelling number of asylum seekers. Following a series of meetings last week, sources told Kathimerini, the Ministry for Migration Policy decided to reopen four camps, first set up at the peak of the refugee crisis in 2015, raising the total number of operational centers to 25. More specifically, tents have been set up again at the Malakasa camp, north of Athens, to house 300 people.

The Vagiochori camp near Thessaloniki, in northern Greece, is also expected to open in the coming days, providing accommodation for 400 individuals. The facility at Elefsina, west of the capital, has been hosting 250 refugees since late April, while another 350 migrants and refugees were transferred to the reception center at Oinofyta, north of Attica. A drop in the migrant population at the Skaramangas refugee center, meanwhile, was reversed after September last year, with the current number estimated at more than 2,000. An average 75 migrants land daily on Greece’s Aegean islands. A total of 12,065 people had entered the country until June 11 this year.

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“..the plant is heavily cloned so if you have a disease that can kill one tree, it can potentially wipe out the entire industry.”

Scientists Scramble To Stop Bananas Being Killed Off (G.)

A British company has joined the race to develop a banana variety resistant to diseases and climatic changes that threaten to disrupt the availability of the country’s favourite fruit – or even kill it off altogether. The UK alone consumes more than 5bn bananas a year, while the fruit is a staple food in many poor countries and accounts for an export industry worth $13bn (£9.8bn) a year. But the global supply chain is threatened by a virulent disease that has been attacking plantations in Australia, south-east Asia and parts of Africa and the Middle East. As experts warn the fungus known as “fusarium wilt”, or Panama disease, could spread to Latin America, from where the majority of bananas are exported, scientists are scrambling to create a more robust variety that could help sustain the crop.

A single type of banana, called the Cavendish, accounts for 99.9% of bananas traded globally. It replaced a tastier variety wiped out by disease in the 1950s. Now researchers at the Norwich-based startup Tropic Biosciences are using gene editing techniques to develop a more resilient version of the Cavendish after securing $10m from investors. The company’s CEO, Gilad Gershno, : “In the developed world we tend to take bananas for granted. A banana found in your local supermarket grown in Costa Rica and shipped to the UK probably costs less than an apple grown 20 miles away. “If you look at the broader consumption on top of exports, the banana industry is worth a massive $30bn a year. However,people have been getting increasingly worried because the plant is heavily cloned so if you have a disease that can kill one tree, it can potentially wipe out the entire industry.”

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“10,000,000,000,000,000,000. 10 quintillion. That equals more than 1500 million insects for every person.”

Losing The Buzz (ODT)

He starts at the beginning, with a black and white photocopy of a pie chart representing the animal kingdom and its various, speciated slices of pie. 80 percent of all known species of animals are insects, he says. You can tell an insect – if you can get it to hold still for long enough – by its six legs, exoskeleton divided into a head, thorax and abdomen and its two waggling antennae. By far the biggest orders of insects are the coleoptera (beetles) and the hymenoptera (wasps, bees and ants), followed by the lepidoptera (butterflies and moths), then diptera (flies and mosquitoes) and, finally, other insects, such as grasshoppers and silverfish. “The total number of individual insects alive worldwide today is …” He writes it out. 10,000,000,000,000,000,000. “… 10 quintillion. That equals more than 1500 million insects for every person.”

[..] The total biomass, that is the total weight of all organisms on earth, is estimated at 545.2 Gt C (gigatons of carbon), the researchers say. More than 80% of this, 452.5Gt C, is plants. Next comes bacteria (16%, 87.2Gt C) and fungi (2%, 10.9 Gt C). Animals make up just 0.4% of the total biomass. The globe’s 7.6 billion people account for just 0.01% of all living things. And yet our impact on the globe has been enormous – some would say catastrophic. According to the Proceedings article, humans are responsible for the possibly irreparable loss of large chunks of the animal and plant kingdoms; more than 80% of all wild animals and half of all plants.

Anthony Harris finds it deeply disturbing. “Farmed poultry now makes up 70% of all birds on the planet, with just 30% wild,” he says with a shocked tone. “The picture for mammals is worse. 60 percent of all mammals on earth are livestock, mostly cattle and pigs, 36% are humans and just 4% of all mammals are wild.’ [..] Without insects, we face total ecological collapse and global famine. It is being called the Sixth Mass Extinction. The Fifth Mass Extinction was the one that killed off the dinosaurs, 66 million years ago. Harvard entomologist Prof E.O. Wilson has estimated that, without insects and other land-based invertebrates, humanity would only last a few months. Land-based plants and animals would be next to go. The planet would fall quiet and still. The last time the earth was like that was 440 million years ago.

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Anyone seen any initiative to stop this?

Where Have All Our Insects Gone? (G.)

Certainly, the statistics are grim. Native ladybird populations are crashing; three quarters of butterfly species – such as the painted lady and the Glanville fritillary – have dropped significantly in numbers; while bees, of which there are more than 250 species in the UK, are also suffering major plunges in populations, with great yellow bumblebees, solitary potter flower bees and other species declining steeply in recent years. Other threatened insects include the New Forest cicada, the tansy beetle and the oil beetle. As for moths, some of the most beautiful visitors to our homes and gardens, the picture is particularly alarming. Apart from the tiger moth, which was once widespread in the UK, the V-moth (Marcaria wauaria) recorded a 99% fall in numbers between 1968 and 2007 and is now threatened with extinction, a fate that has already befallen the orange upperwing, the bordered gothic and the Brighton wainscot in recent years.

An insect Armageddon is under way, say many entomologists, the result of a multiple whammy of environmental impacts: pollution, habitat changes, overuse of pesticides, and global warming. And it is a decline that could have crucial consequences. Our creepy crawlies may have unsettling looks but they lie at the foot of a wildlife food chain that makes them vitally important to the makeup and nature of the countryside. They are “the little things that run the world” according to the distinguished Harvard biologist Edward O Wilson, who once observed: “If all humankind were to disappear, the world would regenerate back to the rich state of equilibrium that existed 10,000 years ago. If insects were to vanish, the environment would collapse into chaos.”

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Beginning and end of a speech by Pilger in Sydney. Tomorrow there are many rallies for Assange, especially in Australia. There is also a UN Human RIghts Commission meeting in Genava.

Bringing Julian Assange Home (John Pilger)

The persecution of Julian Assange must end. Or it will end in tragedy. The Australian government and prime minister Malcolm Turnbull have an historic opportunity to decide which it will be. They can remain silent, for which history will be unforgiving. Or they can act in the interests of justice and humanity and bring this remarkable Australian citizen home. Assange does not ask for special treatment. The government has clear diplomatic and moral obligations to protect Australian citizens abroad from gross injustice: in JulianE’s case, from a gross miscarriage of justice and the extreme danger that await him should he walk out of the Ecuadorean embassy in London unprotected. We know from the Chelsea Manning case what he can expect if a US extradition warrant is successful — a United Nations Special Rapporteur called it torture.

[..] Malcolm Turnbull is now the Prime Minister of Australia. Julian Assange’s father has written to Turnbull. It is a moving letter, in which he has appealed to the prime minister to bring his son home. He refers to the real possibility of a tragedy. I have watched Assange’s health deteriorate in his years of confinement without sunlight. He has had a relentless cough, but is not even allowed safe passage to and from a hospital for an X-ray . Malcolm Turnbull can remain silent. Or he can seize this opportunity and use his government’s diplomatic influence to defend the life of an Australian citizen, whose courageous public service is recognised by countless people across the world. He can bring Julian Assange home.

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Mar 142018
 


Vincent van Gogh Sprig of Flowering Almond in a Glass 1888

 

One Of The Greatest Minds Ever To Live Dies Age 76 (Ind.)
Trump Unmasked 68 Years Of Washington Duplicity (Stockman)
What Secretary of State Tillerson’s Firing Means (Paul Craig Roberts)
New CIA Director Gina Haspel Once Ran A Torture Site (Qz)
Theresa May Plans For ‘Economic War’ With Vladimir Putin And His Allies (Ind.)
False Flags for Newbies (Dmitry Orlov)
Google To Ban All Cryptocurrency-Related Advertising (CNBC)
The Retirement Crisis: The Elderly Are Broke (GT)
More Than 500 Refugees, Migrants Reach Greek Islands In Four Days (K.)

 

 

Bit of a hyperbole headline perhaps (how would you know), but certainly unequalled in our times. I think Hawking greatest achievement was that once people had accepted his ‘initial’ groundbreaking theories on black holes (nothing can escape, event horizons etc.), he turned around and said they were not true: matter does escape from them after all: Hawking radiation.

One Of The Greatest Minds Ever To Live Dies Age 76 (Ind.)

He once said, ‘It would not be much of a universe if it wasn’t home to the people you love.’ We will miss him forever.” Professor Hawking explored both the very smallest and very largest parts of the universe: testing the limits of human understanding across time and space space, and peering into the sub-molecular world of quantum theory. Sir Tim Berners-Lee, founder of the world wide web, was one of the first to respond to news of his death, saying on Twitter: “We have lost a colossal mind and a wonderful spirit”. Professor Hawking shot to international fame after the 1988 publication of A Brief History of Time, one of the most complex books ever to achieve mass appeal, which stayed on the Sunday Times best-sellers list for 237 weeks.

Over the years, he would also embrace areas of popular culture appearing in both The Simpsons and hit US science comedy The Big Bang Theory. His work ranged from the origins of the universe itself, through the possibility of time travel to the mysteries of space’s all-consuming black holes. His most famous theoretical breakthrough was the idea that black holes are not really black, but can produce thermal radiation and potentially “evaporate”. Scientists refer to such potential emanations as “Hawking radiation.” “My goal is simple,” Professor Hawking once said. “It is complete understanding of the universe, why it is as it is and why it exists at all.”

With Roger Penrose, Professor Hawking showed that Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity implies space and time would have a beginning in the Big Bang and an end in black holes. He spent much of his career trying to find a way to reconcile Einstein’s theory with quantum physics and produce a “Theory of Everything.” Professor Hawking said he wrote A Brief History of Time to convey as clearly as he could the topics that excited him. “My original aim was to write a book that would sell on airport bookstalls,” he told reporters at the time. “In order to make sure it was understandable I tried the book out on my nurses. I think they understood most of it.”

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Not a general view.

Trump Unmasked 68 Years Of Washington Duplicity (Stockman)

[..] the Korean peninsula never had anything to do with American security. Its partition was an accident in the final days of WWII; the 1950-1953 war was utterly pointless and unnecessary; and the prolonged US occupation of the southern half of the peninsula was at once a provocation, a massive waste of treasure and a prime example of what imperial rulers do once bivouacked astride a global empire. That is, like Imperial Rome, they puff themselves up with self-importance and busy-body rule for its own sake. So doing, they invent self-serving rationalizations for hegemony, such as the insidious “indispensable nation” conceit—even as they extract the taxes and issue the mountains of debt required to fund the endless fiscal needs of the state’s machinery of war and foreign domination.

Indeed, Washington has long ago forgotten how its global empire came about or why the Korean frontier has remained a vestigial Maginot Line – long after the “enemies” it was designed to contain disappeared from the pages of history. We are referring, or course, to the Soviet Empire, which is no more; and the Red China Menace, which has morphed into a colossal Red Ponzi scheme of debt, malinvestment and speculative building madness that is a danger mostly to the 1.3 billion Chinese caught up in history’s craziest economic freak show. So whether by inadvertence or blind impulse, the Donald has now opened the door to sweeping away six decades of Washington duplicity and double-speak.

The fact is, the Korean problem is not complicated or some kind of imponderable riddle that baffles even the so-called “experts”.To the contrary, both a visiting Martian and an attentive reader of history not enthrall to the groupthink of Imperial Washington can see that the key to “de-nuclearizing” Korea is to demilitarize it and de-internationalize it at the same time. That is, if Washington ever wishes to de-escalate its current dangerous nuclear brinksmanship with the Fat Boy Of Pyongyang, it needs to get its 29,000 troops off the peninsula and end the constant war games and practice invasions of the North Korea; and to also tear up the Washington imposed mutual security agreements, and let the two halves of the “Hermit Kingdom” restore their own version of the pre-1945 status quo ante.

[..] since 2002 South Korea’s economy has grown every eight months by more than the entire current GDP of North Korea. But that doesn’t change the reality on the ground and the overwhelming case to permit Korea to be run by the Koreans under whatever state arrangements they can agree to. That was the exact aim of the South Korean governments after the Cold War ended when they pursued “sunshine policy” rapprochement with the North. That is, until it was shutdown by George Bush’s neocon hatchet men.

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The choice for Tillerson was never a good one. But with adding Pompeo, Haspel and next up John Bolton, Trump’s own picks are a bigger threat to him than Robert Mueller ever could be.

What Secretary of State Tillerson’s Firing Means (Paul Craig Roberts)

The firing of Secretary of State Tillerson, the movement of CIA Director Pompeo to Secretary of State, and the promotion of Gina Haspel, who oversaw the secret CIA torture prisons in Thailand, indicate that the military/security complex has closed its grip on the Trump regime. There will be no more talk of normalizing relations with Russia. The combination of the Israel Lobby, the neoconservatives, and the military/security complex have proven to be too powerful for peace to be established between the two nuclear powers. If you look at Trump’s administration, the above three forces are those in charge. Israel remains determined to use the US military to destabilize Syria and Iran in order to isolate Hezbollah and cut off the milita’s support and supplies.

The neoconservatives both support Israel’s interest and their own desire for Washington’s hegemony over the world. The military/security complex intends to hold on to the “Russia threat” as a justification of its budget and power. The presstitutes are in complete harmony with the scheme. Although Russiagate has been proven to be false charges orchestrated by the DNC, FBI, and CIA, the presstitutes continue to repeat the charges as if evidence exists that proves the charges to be true. The “stolen election” is fiction turned into fact. And now we have a new charge, that Putin ordered a former British spy in England to be eliminated while sitting on a park bench with the use of a highly unlikely form of military poison.

The charge is preposterous, but that is not preventing the fiction from becoming fact. Having served in Washington for a quarter century and having known members of the British government, I do not believe that any of them believe the Russiagate and Skripal poisoning stories. What is happening is that an agenda has taken precedence over truth. This is an extremely dangerous agenda. Russia’s new weapons easily give Russia military superiority over the US. As China and Iran see the situation similarly to the Russians, the US is greatly out-classed.

Yet, Washington and its vassals persist in making violent and false charges and threats against Russia, Iran, and on occasion China. Russia, Iran, and China know that these charges are false. Confronting an endless string of false and hostile charges, they prepare for war. The world is being driven to war, which would be nuclear, by a tiny minority: Israeli Zionists, neoconservatives, and the US military/security complex. We are witnessing the most reckless and irresponsible behavior in world history. Where are the voices against it?

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She should be held in one of those sites.

New CIA Director Gina Haspel Once Ran A Torture Site (Qz)

As CIA director Mike Pompeo moves to become the United States’ secretary of state, deputy director Gina Haspel has been nominated to lead the agency. If confirmed by the Senate, she will become the first woman to run the CIA. Haspel’s nomination will be controversial; she played a leading role (paywall) in running a US torture site abroad and later destroyed the evidence of it. In 2002, she oversaw a secret prison in Thailand that tortured two terrorism suspects. That torture took place within the CIA’s “extraordinary rendition” program, in which suspected terrorists are sent to US allies, and interrogated in “black sites” on their soil. One of the men, known as Abu Zubayda, was waterboarded 83 times in one month and was slammed into walls by the head.

He was deprived of sleep and kept in a coffin-like box. Interrogators later decided he didn’t have any useful information. ProPublica found that Haspel personally signed cables to CIA headquarters that detailed Zubayda’s interrogation. CIA videos of the torture were destroyed in 2005, on the orders of a cable drafted by Haspel. Her then-boss Jose Rodriguez, the CIA’s director of operations for counterterrorism, signed off on the order. “The cable left nothing to chance. It even told them how to get rid of the tapes,” he wrote in his memoir, according to ProPublica. “They were to use an industrial-strength shredder to do the deed.” The European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights, a Berlin-based NGO, has been pushing Germany’s public prosecutor to arrest Haspel for her role in the torture program.

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You can’t pull this stuff without proof. But note how she gets support from all over, countries, media. Like the US does when it invades yet another nation.

Theresa May Plans For ‘Economic War’ With Vladimir Putin And His Allies (Ind.)

Theresa May is drawing up plans for an “economic war” with Vladimir Putin and his allies after Moscow refused to explain how a deadly Russian nerve agent came to be used in a rural British city. The Independent understands the ground is already being prepared for economic measures such as asset freezes and seizures, alongside visa bans against Russian individuals. Ms May is also understood to be considering expelling diplomats and pushing for joint international action with allies. The Prime Minister is set to meet her National Security Council on Wednesday to finalise her approach which is then likely be announced to the House of Commons in the afternoon.

Action came a step closer after the Russian Foreign Minister said his country would not cooperate with the British investigation into the poisoning of ex-spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Salisbury on 4 March. But Britain’s allies gave early support to Ms May’s push, with Angela Merkel calling for unified action and Donald Trump saying there must be “consequences” for those responsible. [..] A Government minister said: “What happens will be an economic war, these will be economic measures. “Russia’s economy is only half that of the UK, a lot of it concentrated in a few people’s hands. Well, we’ll do our bit to make it smaller if they want to carry on like this. “That doesn’t give us any pleasure at all, but we need the nations of Europe to behave within the rule of law and not like gangsters. The message has to be economic, political and diplomatic.”

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“.. the British secret services, in close coordination with the British government and the press, poisoned Skripal and his daughter using a nerve agent obtained from Britain’s military research base at Porton Down..”

False Flags for Newbies (Dmitry Orlov)

An important key to spotting a false flag is that the “knowledge” of who is to blame becomes available before any evidence is in. For example, in the case of the shooting down of Malaysian Airlines MH-17 over Eastern Ukraine, everyone in the West was convinced that “pro-Russian separatists” were to blame even before the means could be established. To this date, it isn’t understood how they could have done it given the equipment they had at their disposal. In this case, Russia was accused almost immediately, while British FM Boris Johnson was quick to volunteer that Britain should not send its team to the World Cup in Russia this summer, disclosing the real reason behind the assassination attempt.

Is there anything new and different behind this latest provocation? Not really; it seems like a replay of the Litvinenko assassination back in November 2006. The choice of an exotic poison (Polonium 210), the lack of evidence (the British claimed that compelling circumstantial evidence exists but haven’t provided any), and the instantaneous leap to “blame Russia” are all the same. The Russians offered to prosecute whoever is responsible if only the British would provide them with the evidence, but the British have failed to do so.

Giving the British story the benefit of the doubt, let’s see what would compel Russia’s secret services to go after Skripal. In Russia, he was convicted and sentenced for treason, then pardoned and released to the British in a prisoner exchange that included ten Russian spies who had worked in the US, including the rather memorable Anna Chapman. It is a very important rule of the spy business that those released in a spy swap are never acted against; if this rule were violated, the resulting bad faith would make spy swaps impossible to negotiate.

[..] My simple and consistent explanation, expressed in a single sentence, is as follows: Under direction from their colleagues in the US, and closely following a script previously worked out in the Litvinenko case over a decade ago, the British secret services, in close coordination with the British government and the press, poisoned Skripal and his daughter using a nerve agent obtained from Britain’s military research base at Porton Down in order to obtain an excuse to compromise the World Cup games in Russia this summer and also to create a scandal immediately before the Russian presidential election.

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Too close to politics.

Google To Ban All Cryptocurrency-Related Advertising (CNBC)

Google is cracking down on cryptocurrency-related advertising. The company is updating its financial services-related ad policies to ban any advertising about cryptocurrency-related content, including initial coin offerings (ICOs), wallets, and trading advice, Google’s director of sustainable ads, Scott Spencer, told CNBC. That means that even companies with legitimate cryptocurrency offerings won’t be allowed to serve ads through any of Google’s ad products, which place advertising on its own sites as well as third-party websites. This update will go into effect in June 2018, according to a company post.

“We don’t have a crystal ball to know where the future is going to go with cryptocurrencies, but we’ve seen enough consumer harm or potential for consumer harm that it’s an area that we want to approach with extreme caution,” Scott said. Google’s hard-line approach follows a similar ban that Facebook announced earlier this year. While the crypto-currency boom has produced a lot of excitement and wealth, it’s still a largely unregulated space and has spawned countless high-profile scams.

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Virginia Fidler has it right, except for this: “The good news is, Millennials are aware of the problem”. Thing is, it makes no difference if they’re aware or not. I’ve said it before: the demise of retirement systems is the no. 1 reason for UBI.

The Retirement Crisis: The Elderly Are Broke (GT)

42% of Americans are facing their golden years with less than $10,000 in savings. A lack of savings and planning has reduced what should be an enjoyable time in seniors’ lives to a period of stress and worries for many. Out-of-pocket expenses for health care is spiraling. The Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates that Americans 65 years of age and older may spend up to $46,000 annually on healthcare. This is not good news for those with only $10,000 on which to fall back on. For adults over 50, this should be a call to act now, while there is still time. Only one-third of adults in that age group have savings greater than $10,000. Retirement planning needs to become a priority, as there is little time to waste.

Pensions are becoming rarer, and Social Security is becoming less secure than it used to be. Many health needs of seniors are not covered by Medicare. Some experts believe the Social Security system will be depleted by 2030. Adults over the age of 50 need to consider making contributions into 401(k) accounts or similar retirement plans. Social Security was never intended to be the sole income of retiring seniors. It was meant to supplement approximately only 40% of post-retirement spending. Social security was supposed to enhance seniors’ lives, not support it entirely. However, according to Investopedia.com, 43% of unmarried seniors rely on Social Security to cover 90% of their basic needs. Almost a quarter of married couples depend on Social Security to meet most of their expenses.

Some seniors struggling with poverty are able to receive supplemental income (“SPM”), such as food stamps for a bit of additional help. The need is especially high for seniors who are women, African Americans, and Hispanics, and those with ongoing health issues.6,400,000 million American seniors are living at poverty level, struggling to meet fundamental needs such as rent and food. This number is likely to increase as more boomers become eligible for Social Security and the system becomes less able to support them.

What does this mean for the Millennial generation? The current Social Security system will be unsustainable at some point. It cannot continue at the current level. It probably won’t be abolished, as that would cause chaos for seniors. However, Millennials are aware that changes are coming. They know that benefits will likely be reduced by the time they grow older. The good news is, Millennials are aware of the problem. Members of the boomer generation who assumed Social Security would take care of their needs are learning a hard lesson.

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Turkey rattles the cage.

More Than 500 Refugees, Migrants Reach Greek Islands In Four Days (K.)

According to official figures released on Tuesday more than 500 migrants reached islands of the eastern Aegean in the previous four days, following a two-week lull in arrivals. The spike in arrivals was attributed by a Greek Police official to Turkish authorities, who, he said, control the influx. “But they always make sure not to overdo it so they can claim they are honoring the joint EU-Turkey agreement,” the official said, referring to a deal signed between Brussels and Ankara in March 2016 to curb human smuggling. The two-week drop in arrivals eased the pressure on facilities, as did the transfer of migrants to camps on the mainland. But some camps, notably on Lesvos, remain overcrowded.

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Apr 062017
 
 April 6, 2017  Posted by at 8:38 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  4 Responses »


DPC Oyster luggers along Mississippi, New Orleans 1906

 

Euro Saves Germany, Slaughters the PIGS, & Feeds the BLICS (Hamilton)
Greece Wants Eurozone Summit If Deal On Bailout Doesn’t Happen Soon (AP)
Half Of American Working Families Are Living Paycheck To Paycheck (MW)
Trump Top Economic Adviser Cohn Backs Split Of Lending, Investment Banks (BBG)
IMF Explains How To Subvert Resistance Against Elimination Of Cash (Häring)
Precursors to the ’08 Crisis are Repeating Now (Nomi Prins)
Former Fed Advisor Says Central Bank Shouldn’t Comment On Equities (CNBC)
Is the Fed’s Balance Sheet Headed for the Crapper? (DiMartino Booth)
Toronto House Price Bubble Goes Nuts (WS)
Interest-Only Loans ‘To End In Tears’ (Aus.)
China Is More Fragile than You Realize (DR)
Syria Gas Attack: Assad’s Doing…Or False Flag? (Ron Paul)
Reports In Unmasking Controversy Were Detailed (Fox)
We Are Heading For The Warmest Climate In Half A Billion Years (Conv.)

 

 

Absolutely brilliant by Chris Hamilton. Many more graphs in the article. h/t Tyler

Euro Saves Germany, Slaughters the PIGS, & Feeds the BLICS (Hamilton)

Germany was well aware of it’s post WWII collapsing birth rate and the impact of this on economic growth as this shrinking population of young made it’s way into the Core.  Consider Germany’s Core population peaked in 1995 and it’s domestic consumer base has been shrinking since, now down over 3.3 million potential consumers (about a 9% Core decline…remember a depression is a 10% decline in economic activity, which a 9% and growing decline in German consumers would have almost surely induced).

GERMANY

The chart below shows Germany’s Core population from 1950–>2040…but understand this is no guestimate through 2040.  This is simply taking the existing 0-24yr/old population (plus anticipated immigration) and sliding them into the Core through 2040.  Germany’s Core population is set to fall by over 30% or 10+ million by 2040 (far more than the 7 million Germans of all ages who died in WWII).

 

But Germany had a plan.  With the advent of the EU and Euro just as Germany’s Core began shrinking, Germany was able to avoid the pitfalls of a shrinking domestic consumer base, circumvent the strong German currency, and effectively quadruple it’s effective export market across Europe.  German exports, as a % of GDP, have essentially doubled since the advent of the Euro (22% in ’95 to almost 50% in ’16).  The chart below highlights Germany’s shrinking Core vs. rising GDP (primarily via exports) since 1995.

[..] the German motivation for the EU and Euro are fairly plain as are the resultant economic transfusion from South to North.  But for Germany to be a winner, there had to be a loser in this shrinking pie game.  Hello PIGS (Portugal, Italy, Greece, Spain), you lost.  As the old poker adage goes, when you don’t know who the sucker at the table is…it’s you.  Particularly when you “win big” at first and it all seems so easy…but then it all turns.

PIGS

The chart below shows the PIGS Core population peaking about 15 years later than in Germany but likewise clearly rolling over.  By 2040, the PIGS Core population will be back at it’s 1960 levels…down from the 2010 peak by 17 million or about a 30% decline.

But if we look at the PIGS combined GDP and Core population…we see a very different picture than in Germany.  The chart below shows the PIGS GDP turned down ahead of the Core population peak.  The rise in GDP in these nations was a credit bubble premised on cheap EU wide interest rates more appropriate for Germany.  Exports as a % of GDP (which were higher than Germany’s in ’95) have risen less than half of Germany’s increase (rising as a % primarily due to declining PIGS GDP).  Low German wage increases and high quality German goods helped displace PIGS domestic manufacturing base.

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The logical consequence of the article above. Economic warfare. Tsipras complains about the Troika “moving the goalposts”, but that’s exactly the game, Alexis.

Greece Wants Eurozone Summit If Deal On Bailout Doesn’t Happen Soon (AP)

Top Greek and European officials indicated Wednesday that it’s possible to reach a breakthrough in the country’s difficult bailout talks over the next two days. Greece’s prime minister said that if a deal on paying Athens the next bailout installment fails to materialize, the eurozone should hold a special summit. Alexis Tsipras said negotiators are “just a breath away” from an agreement at Friday’s scheduled meeting in Malta of the so-called eurogroup, the gather of finance ministers from countries that use the euro. But Tsipras blamed unnamed negotiators among Greece’s European creditors and the IMF for “moving the goalposts” each time Greece was getting close to meeting approval conditions for the bailout. “We are not playing games here … that must stop,” he said, after talks in Athens with EU Council President Donald Tusk.

Greece has to agree on budget measures to get access to its loans. But the talks have dragged on for months, freezing the latest loan payout and hurting chances of a Greek economic recovery after years of recession and turmoil. Without the bailout payment, Greece would struggle to make a debt payment in July, raising anew the prospect of default. Tsipras’ left-led government is pushing for a comprehensive deal that would cover more than just spending cuts and harsh reforms by Greece, but also alleviate the country’s debt burden and ease its access later this year to international bond markets. “If the eurogroup is not in a position to (reach an agreement) on Friday, I have asked President Tusk to convene a eurozone summit to achieve an immediate agreement,” Tsipras said. “I don’t think that will be needed, because there will be a result on Friday, but these delays cannot continue.”

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Is it just me, or do we see similar surveys once a week these days? How can anyone maintain that the US economy is doing fine?

Half Of American Working Families Are Living Paycheck To Paycheck (MW)

More than seven years after the Great Recession officially ended, there is yet more depressing research that at least half of Americans are vulnerable to financial disaster. Some 50% of people is woefully unprepared for a financial emergency, new research finds. Nearly 1 in 5 (19%) Americans have nothing set aside to cover an unexpected emergency, while nearly 1 in 3 (31%) Americans don’t have at least $500 set aside to cover an unexpected emergency expense, according to a survey released Tuesday by HomeServe USA, a home repair service. A separate survey released Monday by insurance company MetLife found that 49% of employees are “concerned, anxious or fearful about their current financial well-being.”

One explanation: Americans are crippled under the same amount of debt as they had during the recession. The New York Federal Reserve on Monday predicted that total household debt will reach its previous peak of $12.68 trillion in 2017. The last time it reached that level was in the third quarter of 2008, during the depths of the Great Recession. Indeed, it’s already close: Total household debt in the fourth quarter of 2016 was $12.58 trillion. Fewer borrowers have housing-related debt in 2017 and, instead, have taken on auto and student loans.

One illness can push people to the brink of financial ruin. Wanda Battle, a registered nurse for four decades, was recently hit with a $100,000 medical bill. She has visited her local emergency room on more than one occasion due to severe migraines and mini-strokes. Battle, who is based near Nashville, Tenn., managed to reduce her latest hospital bill to $32,000 based on her relatively low income, but still faces $650 monthly payments for a previous $22,000 medical bill. “There were times I couldn’t work,” she told MarketWatch. “I have not held a job that is continuous.”

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Glass Steagall. Interesting.

Trump Top Economic Adviser Cohn Backs Split Of Lending, Investment Banks (BBG)

In a private meeting with lawmakers, White House economic adviser Gary Cohn said he supports a policy that could radically reshape Wall Street’s biggest firms by separating their consumer-lending businesses from their investment banks, said people with direct knowledge of the matter. Cohn, the ex-Goldman Sachs executive who is now advising President Donald Trump, said he generally favors banking going back to how it was when firms like Goldman focused on trading and underwriting securities, and companies such as Citigroup primarily issued loans, according to the people, who heard his comments. The remarks surprised some senators and congressional aides who attended the Wednesday meeting, as they didn’t expect a former top Wall Street executive to speak favorably of proposals that would force banks to dramatically rethink how they do business.

Yet Cohn’s comments echo what Trump and Republican lawmakers have previously said about wanting to bring back the Glass-Steagall Act, the Depression-era law that kept bricks-and-mortar lending separate from investment banking for more than six decades. In the years after the law’s 1999 repeal, banks such as Citigroup, Bank of America and JPMorgan Chase gobbled up rivals and pushed into all sorts of new businesses, becoming one-stop-shopping financial behemoths. Many banking executives believed that the inclusion of former finance executives like Cohn in Trump’s White House would temper major changes such as a Glass-Steagall return. But his Wednesday remarks suggest he could be a wildcard should Congress get serious about reinstating the law. White House officials haven’t said what an updated version of Glass-Steagall might look like.

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They actually wrote a manual.

IMF Explains How To Subvert Resistance Against Elimination Of Cash (Häring)

The IMF has published a Working Paper on “de-cashing”. It gives advice to governments who want to abolish cash against the will of their citizenry. Move slowly, start with harmless seeming measures, is part of that advice. In “The Macroeconomics of De-Cashing”, IMF-Analyst Alexei Kireyev recommends in his conclusions:

“Although some countries most likely will de-cash in a few years, going completely cashless should be phased in steps. The de-cashing process could build on the initial and largely uncontested steps, such as the phasing out of large denomination bills, the placement of ceilings on cash transactions, and the reporting of cash moves across the borders. Further steps could include creating economic incentives to reduce the use of cash in transactions, simplifying the opening and use of transferrable deposits, and further computerizing the financial system. The private sector led de-cashing seems preferable to the public sector led decashing. The former seems almost entirely benign (e.g., more use of mobile phones to pay for coffee), but still needs policy adaptation.

The latter seems more questionable, and people may have valid objections to it. De-cashing of either kind leaves both individuals and states more vulnerable to disruptions, ranging from power outages to hacks to cyberwarfare. In any case, the tempting attempts to impose de-cashing by a decree should be avoided, given the popular personal attachment to cash. A targeted outreach program is needed to alleviate suspicions related to de-cashing; in particular, that by de-cashing the authorities are trying to control all aspects of peoples’ lives, including their use of money, or push personal savings into banks. The de-cashing process would acquire more traction if it were based on individual consumer choice and cost-benefits considerations.”

Note, that the author is not talking about unreasonable objections and imagined disadvantages: He does count it among the advantages of de-cashing in the very next paragraph that personal savings are pushed into banks and he also does count total control of all aspects of financial life under the pros, as in the last sentence of the last quote below.

“As de-cashing gives incentives to economies’ agents to convert their currency in bank deposits, the deposit base of the banking system will increase, which can help reduce the lending rates and expand credit.”

And finally the advice to do it together:

“Coordinated efforts on de-cashing could help enhance its positive effects and reduce potential costs. At least at the level of major countries and their currencies, the authorities could coordinate their de-cashing efforts. Such coordinated efforts are, in particular, important in the decisions to phase out large denomination bills for all major currencies, to use ceilings and other restrictions on cash transactions, and to introduce the reporting requirements for cash transactions or their taxation. For currency areas, a single decashing policy would be clearly preferable to a national one. Finally, consensus between the public and the private sector and outreach on the advantages and modalities of gradual decashing should be viewed as key preconditions for its success.”

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They’re all over the place.

Precursors to the ’08 Crisis are Repeating Now (Nomi Prins)

The biggest banks are still as dangerous as they were before the last crisis, even as they push for less regulation. The big six banks U.S. banks are JP Morgan Chase, Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Citigroup, Goldman Sachs, and Morgan Stanley. Despite their belly-aching about heinous Dodd-Frank Act regulations cramping their betting style, they have all done damn good recently. Since Trump was elected and started talking about deregulation, the big six bank stock values have collectively skyrocketed 33.5% (as of March 10th). Bank of America tops that rise with an eye-popping increase of 48.8% in three months. Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley shares shot up 36.6%. Of course, most stocks have been moving up since the election. But keep in mind that the S&P 500 rose just 10.9% during that same period.

Beyond a few extra capital requirements (mostly in the form of a set of rules called Basel III coming from Europe), the need to establish a “living will” in case of another financial emergency, and some limitations on risky trading, not much has changed for these banks. Since the 2008 financial crisis, the big six banks’ total assets have increased by 21%. The big four by 25%. Yet, of the total Global Derivatives Notional amount of $544 trillion, the big six U.S. banks carry $168 trillion of it. Comparing that figure to their total assets, we get a leverage amount of 24 times. To put that in perspective, that’s only slightly less than the leverage their derivatives positions before the 2008 crisis. The biggest banks are still the ones most at risk, and most threatening to anyone with money in the stock market. Cracks have started popping up that make it clear to us that the next financial crisis is just around the corner.

[..] The Fed’s data shows bank lending to businesses has been strong, perhaps too strong. That’s why it’s just now starting to trail off. We’ve had an epic credit expansionary cycle on the back of cheap, central bank fabricated money and ultra-loose monetary policy — what I call “artisanal” money. But defaults and distressed credit activity is rising. Last year, corporates posted their fifth-highest yearly default volume. According to Forbes, “62 companies defaulted on $59.3 billion in debt — 57% higher than the $37.7 billion of defaults in 2015.” That’s an ominous trajectory.

Bank of America just revealed that its 30-90 day consumer credit delinquencies are rising significantly again. So are delinquencies at Wells Fargo. The bank card default rate is at a 42 month high. U.S. subprime auto loan losses are at their highest level since the ’08 crisis. Banks that had been offering more commercial real estate loans now say they will tighten standards. Fears are rising that a greater%age will become delinquent just as they did in the lead up to the last financial crises. A downturn is inevitable. It’s a matter of when, not if.

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Of course it shouldn’t.

Former Fed Advisor Says Central Bank Shouldn’t Comment On Equities (CNBC)

Federal Reserve officials commented on the stock market in March, as minutes from the Federal Open Market Committee meeting revealed the central bank is working to reduce its $4.5 trillion in bonds on its balance sheet this year. Danielle DiMartino Booth, a former Dallas Fed advisor and president of Money Strong, said on CNBC’s Power Lunch on Monday, “It always makes me uncomfortable,” when the central bank comments on U.S. equities. In the summary of the March meeting, Fed members “commented that the recent increase in equity prices might in part reflect investors’ anticipation of a boost to earnings from a cut in corporate taxes or more expansionary fiscal policy, which might not materialize.

They also expressed concern that the low level of implied volatility in equity markets appeared inconsistent with the considerable uncertainty attending the outlook for such policy initiatives.” “I don’t think it’s necessarily the purview of central bankers to comment on this,” DiMartino Booth said. She said the Fed’s comments on the market shows “they are also verbally concerned about financial instability,” and may consider it when the Fed makes fiscal policy decisions, in addition to labor and inflation mandates. David Nelson, chief strategist at Belpointe Asset Management, agreed, “I don’t think the Fed should be commenting on stock prices.”

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“..getting from Point A ($4.5 trillion) to Point B ($2 trillion based on balance sheet contracting just over a tenth the size of the country’s GDP) will take at least five years.”

Is the Fed’s Balance Sheet Headed for the Crapper? (DiMartino Booth)

The good news, for those fearing having to enter monetary rehab, is that it’s going to take a mighty long time to shrink the balance sheet. The fine folks over at Goldman Sachs figure that getting from Point A ($4.5 trillion) to Point B ($2 trillion based on balance sheet contracting just over a tenth the size of the country’s GDP) will take at least five years. (An aside for you insomniacs out there: Have a look back at Mind the Cap, penned back on December 16, 2015, released hours before the Fed hiked rates for the first time in order to raise the cap on the Reverse Repo Facility (RRP) to $2 trillion. (Mind The Cap via DiMartinobooth.com) Come what may, you can consider Goldman’s estimate of the terminal value of a $2 trillion balance sheet and the size of the RRP to be anything but coincidental.)

In any event, things change. As per Goldman, by 2022, “…changes in Fed leadership, regulation, Treasury issuance policy, or macroeconomic conditions could alter both the near-term path and the intended terminal size of the balance sheet.” Indeed. It is entertaining to watch market pundits shift in their skivvies trying to assure the masses that a shrinking balance sheet will be welcomed by risky assets. It was downright comical to read that the Fed’s strategically allowing only long-dated Treasuries to expire and not be replaced would prevent the yield curve from inverting, thus staving off recession. Pardon the interruption, but domestic non-financial sector debt stood at about 140% of GDP in 1980. Today, it’s crested 250% of GDP and keeps rising.

Interest rate sensitivity, especially in commercial real estate, household finance and junk bonds is particularly acute. Oh, and by the way, monetary policy is a global phenomenon. At last check, the European periphery and emerging market corporate bond market were not in the best position to weather a rising rate environment. The best performance, though, was delivered by Chair Janet Yellen herself. In the spirit of giving credit its due, Business Insider’s Pedro da Costa highlighted this delightful nugget from testimony Yellen presented to Congress in February: “Waiting too long to remove accommodation would be unwise, potentially requiring the FOMC to eventually raise rates rapidly, which could risk disrupting the financial markets and pushing the economy into recession.” Isn’t the rapidly flattening yield curve communicating that ‘removing accommodation’ today is one and the same with ‘pushing the economy into recession’?

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Better do something, Justin. This is going to blow up in YOUR face.

Toronto House Price Bubble Goes Nuts (WS)

Residential property sales in Greater Toronto soared 17.7% year-over-year to 12,077 homes, according to the Toronto Real Estate Board (TREB). New listings jumped 15.2% to 17,052. Prices for all types of homes, based on the MLS Home Price Index Composite “Benchmark,” soared 28.6%. The “average” selling price soared 33.2%! That average selling price of C$916,567 is up from C$688,011 a year ago. Over the past five years, it has doubled! The heavenly manna was spread across the spectrum. For condos, the average price in Greater Toronto soared 33.1% to C$518,879; for townhouses it soared 32.9% to C$705,078; for semi-detached houses, 34.4% to C$858,202; and for detached houses, 33.4% to C$1,214,422. Even the house price bubble in Beijing cannot compete with this sort of miracle; new house prices there increased only 22% year-over-year in February.

And Sydney’s fabulous house price bubble just flat out pales compared to the spectacle transpiring in Toronto, with prices up only 19% in March. Vancouver has its own housing bubble to deal with. But there, the government of British Columbia has tried to tamp down on wild speculation with various measures, including a transfer tax aimed squarely at foreign non-resident investors, with “mixed” success. Now the great fear in Toronto’s real estate circles is that the government of Ontario might impose similarly cruel and unusual punishment on the participants in this spectacle. Some measures are on the table, with folks wondering how to stop the bubble from inflating further and causing even greater harm to the real economy when it deflates, as all bubbles eventually do.

They’re reluctant. It seems they want to see how BC’s measures are washing out in Vancouver. The central government too is trying to fine-tune some macroprudential measures, but they’ve had absolutely no effect on Toronto’s housing bubble. And the Bank of Canada, which has been fretting about the housing bubble for a while – always couched in its very careful terms – refuses to raise rates. Everyone is talking. No one dares to do anything real about Toronto’s house price bubble. In Toronto, according the real estate folks, it’s all based on fundamentals. It’s based on supply and demand and very rational calculated thinking, and there is no bubble in sight, lenders are just fine, and if Canadians are locked out of the housing market, so be it, it’s just a shortage of housing, really.

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We’re supposed to believe Australia never got the memo? Get real.

Interest-Only Loans ‘To End In Tears’ (Aus.)

Former National Australia Bank boss Don Argus has added to warnings about the overreliance of interest-only loans, declaring it is going to “lead to tears” as interest rates eventually move higher. After a widely expected decision by the Reserve Bank to leave its official cash rate unchanged at a record low 1.5% at its monthly board meeting yesterday, Mr Argus declared that borrowers had “forgotten” the cyclical nature of interest rates. “You can only hope that some of these dizzy values that you see people paying for houses now, you hope that they stand up on any correction, any economic correction”, Mr Argus told The Australian. Backing a tightening of so-called macroprudential controls on home lending announced by the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority last week, Mr Argus, a former BHP Billiton chairman, said the capacity of borrowers to repay loans “was always a primary concern in housing loans of yesteryear”.

“If you progressed to just an interest-only environment, that’s only going to lead to tears.” However, in a speech given in Melbourne last night, RBA governor Philip Lowe took aim at banks and other lenders for making overly generous serviceability assessments. “Despite the focus on this area over recent times, too many loans are still made where the borrower has the skinniest of income buffers after interest payments”, Dr Lowe said. “In some cases, lenders are assuming that people can live more frugally than in practice they can, leaving little buffer if things go wrong. So APRA quite rightly has said lenders can expect a strong supervisory focus on loans with a very low net income surplus.” Dr Lowe also noted that the prevalence of interest-only lending was “unusual” globally.

“A reduced reliance on interest-only loans in Australia would be a positive development and would help improve our resilience. With interest rates so low, now is a good time for us to move in this direction,” he said. Almost 40% of residential mortgage lending in Australia is interest-only, where the borrower pays off the interest rather than the principal.

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“It is about regime survival for a Chinese Communist Party that faces existential risk if they stumble.”

China Is More Fragile than You Realize (DR)

China’s economy is not just about providing jobs, goods and services. It is about regime survival for a Chinese Communist Party that faces existential risk if they stumble. Given the systemic problems inherent in trying to run an economy in the absence of the accurate price signals only free markets provide (a problem for both Chinese socialism and the West’s corrupt crony markets), their challenges are worsening every day. Malinvestments the size of ghost cities are not lost on the world’s central bankers who fear a systemic collapse of China’s economy, nor on the brilliant investors who are betting on China’s collapse like they bet against the corrupt banking products in the U.S. housing bubble. Before the 2008 financial crisis, the Chinese debt-to-GDP ratio was 147%; now, it is at about 250%.

Quietly, the Chinese leadership has begun to lower growth expectations but even those numbers should be taken with skepticism. The methodology used to calculate their GDP figures is not publicly known but uses economic data that can be manipulated for sake of appearances. Declining growth impacts China’s financial market as well. Local banks are struggling with non-performing debt rapidly increasing. Non-bank financial institutions referred to as the “shadow banking system” are spreading, with little regulation or recognition of the risks. The government’s attempts to better regulate the system is stymied by local corruption where exaggerated assets and little documentation mask a wave of malinvestments. Like the appearance of no-doc “liar” loans in the U.S. in 2004-2006, the entire shadow banking system is signalling risk of systemic collapse.

Another source of malinvestment is the real estate market. Commercial real estate bubbles are breathtaking and residential real estate values have begun to fall. This seriously threatens social unrest as many Chinese families have put their life savings into real estate believing well intended but nonsensical government assurances of support to an ever increasing housing market. As is typical with most countries, the Chinese government tries to mask the ravages of inflation by adjusting their public measurement downwards. Doing so conceals the impact it has on households. But when values collapse wiping out the entire family savings for their old age, there will be a terrifying political backlash.

Yet another concern is that the 2008 Lehman bankruptcy marked a plateau in world trade. This has been particularly difficult for China as exports accounted for more than 40% of their GDP. With reduced global trade, China began to lose competitiveness in the market place. Inflation of the money supply in the Chinese economy required higher wages to offset rising prices. In turn, China tried to move into higher value exports by manufacturing more technologically advanced and complicated products. Unfortunately, in the transition, quality suffered and foreign markets began to look for alternatives to Chinese components.

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Good to see I’m not the only one who questions the narrative (see Any of this Sound Familiar?).

Syria Gas Attack: Assad’s Doing…Or False Flag? (Ron Paul)

Just days after the US Administration changed course on Syrian President Assad, saying he could stay, an alleged chemical weapon attack that killed dozens of civilians has been blamed on the Syrian government. Did Assad sign his own death warrant with such an attack…or does some other entity benefit?

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“Sort of like in a divorce case where lawyers are hired, investigators are hired just to find out what the other person is doing from morning until night and then you try to piece it together later on.”

Reports In Unmasking Controversy Were Detailed (Fox)

The intelligence reports at the center of the Susan Rice unmasking controversy were detailed, and almost resembled a private investigator’s file, according to a Republican congressman familiar with the documents. “This is information about their everyday lives,” Rep. Peter King of New York, a member of the House Intelligence committee said. “Sort of like in a divorce case where lawyers are hired, investigators are hired just to find out what the other person is doing from morning until night and then you try to piece it together later on.” On the House Intelligence Committee, only the Republican chairman, Devin Nunes of California, and the ranking Democrat Adam Schiff, also of California, have personally reviewed the intelligence reports. Some members were given broad outlines.

Nunes has consistently stated that the files caused him deep concern because the unmasking went beyond the former national security adviser Mike Flynn, and the information was not related to Moscow. Schiff said in a statement, “I cannot comment on the content of these materials or any other classified documents, and nothing should be inferred from the fact that I am treating classified materials the way they should be treated – by refusing to comment on them. Only the Administration has the power to declassify the information and make it available to the public.” Former National Security Adviser Rice is under scrutiny after allegations she sought to unmask the identities of Trump associates caught up in surveillance – such as phone calls between foreign intelligence targets. Rice denies ever having sought such information for political purposes and has defended her requests as routine.

[..] During his March 20 testimony before the House Intelligence Committee, NSA director Admiral Mike Rogers said only 20 individuals within the agency are authorized to approve those requests. “They receive specific training, there are specific controls put in place in terms of our ability to disseminate information out of the databases associated with U.S. persons,” Rogers said at the time. What it appears to suggest is that the NSA itself agreed that the instances in which Rice requested unmasking warranted that action. FBI Director James Comey was less direct. “I don’t know for sure. As I sit here, surely more, given the nature of the FBI’s work,” he testified.

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What’s a 100 million more or less?

We Are Heading For The Warmest Climate In Half A Billion Years (Conv.)

Carbon dioxide concentrations are heading towards values not seen in the past 200m years. The sun has also been gradually getting stronger over time. Put together, these facts mean the climate may be heading towards warmth not seen in the past half a billion years. A lot has happened on Earth since 500,000,000 BC – continents, oceans and mountain ranges have come and gone, and complex life has evolved and moved from the oceans onto the land and into the air. Most of these changes occur on very long timescales of millions of years or more. However, over the past 150 years global temperatures have increased by about 1ºC, ice caps and glaciers have retreated, polar sea-ice has melted, and sea levels have risen.Some will point out that Earth’s climate has undergone similar changes before. So what’s the big deal?

Scientists can seek to understand past climates by looking at the evidence locked away in rocks, sediments and fossils. What this tells us is that yes, the climate has changed in the past, but the current speed of change is highly unusual. For instance, carbon dioxide hasn’t been added to the atmosphere as rapidly as today for at least the past 66m years. In terms of geological time, 1ºC of global warming isn’t particularly unusual. For much of its history the planet was significantly warmer than today, and in fact more often than not Earth was in what is termed a “greenhouse” climate state. During the last greenhouse state 50m years ago, global average temperatures were 10-15ºC warmer than today, the polar regions were ice-free, palm trees grew on the coast of Antarctica, and alligators and turtles wallowed in swamp-forests in what is now the frozen Canadian Arctic.

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Jul 202014
 
 July 20, 2014  Posted by at 2:23 pm Finance Tagged with: , ,  27 Responses »


Clyde H. Sunderland PanAm ‘China Clipper’ (Martin M130 Flying Boat) over San Francisco July 22, 1936

Presumed innocent. Innocent until proven guilty. Reasonable doubt. How long ago it seems that these principles guided our societies. Perhaps there are a few courts in the heartland left that still live up to them, but the aftermath of 9/11 certainly erased them from the overall American conscience. Some animals are more equal than others, said Orwell in Animal Farm.

Guantanamo Bay showed that some people are far less equal than others, and laws that apply to everyone else don’t apply to them. That, somewhat ironically, is probably the case at the other end, the upper echelons of society, as well, judging from the – lack of – numbers of persecuted bankers.

What’s unfolding now, in the wake of flight MH17, looks more like Saddam Hussein 2.0 than anything else. Seems like all we need to do is wait for Colin Powell to bring the ‘evidence’ to the UN. And for someone in the White House to bring up some more known unknowns. Behind the scenes, of course, Saddam 1.0 was about oil, and so is 2.0.

At least 193 of the 298 people (that’s two thirds) who died in the Malaysia Airlines plane crash had the Dutch nationality. The Dutch government makes sure not to point fingers until it has proof. This restraint represents a matter of respect for the victims and their families and friends. No false flags, no false accusations. As you may know, this is my country of birth, to which I’ve also temporarily returned, and I can assure you this is a devastated nation. To make a cruel comparison: the US population is almost 20 times that of Holland, which means that on a relative basis, many more Dutch nationals died than did Americans in 9/11.

The US, which apparently found one dual citizenship American on the plane after looking hard, doesn’t know any such restraint, and hence no such respect. Nor does the UK. Do we detect a pattern? Are we once again allegedly sure that someone possesses something they in reality don’t? Do we repeat our own mistakes, do we forget our follies, that easily?

One things that seems obvious is that the plane was hit by a projectile of some sort. Obama claims US intelligence says it was fired from the ground, but he offered no proof. Reasonable doubt. He also said it came from territory held by ‘separatists’, by again no proof. Reasonable doubt. Everybody and their aunt claims the separatists fired the projectile, but again no proof. Reasonable doubt. Some even say Putin must have supplied the projectile plus the launch installation, but we’re just getting further away from proof all the time. Reasonable doubt. We’re solidly into suspicions and presumptions, edged on by political agendas, and, again, that is highly disrespectful to victims and loved ones.

One source says the separatists have maybe one launch installation for a BUK ‘surface to air’ rocket, and it may well not be in working order. The separatists took one from the Ukraine army some three weeks ago, and that army at the time said it was broken. That same Ukraine army, meanwhile, is reported to possess 60 of these launch installations. Of which they may have recently transported a number into east Ukraine.

Who fired the thing? We don’t know. So why can’t Obama and David Cameron bring themselves to admit they don’t know? Is that for the same reasons Blair and Bush claimed to be sure Saddam had WMD?

As much as I feel for, and mourn with, the victims of this tragedy, I still want to emphasize to myself that this is a tragedy. I refuse to believe for now that either the separatists or the Ukrainian army (or a third party) deliberately shot a civilian plane out of the sky. Why should they? Does the army want to play the false flag card so much they would do it, just to then blame the separatists? Would the latter do it? They seem to have nothing to gain whatsoever, quite the contrary. Putin? Let’s get serious.

Don’t let’s forget that far more than 298 people have been killed by the Ukrainian army in its quest to ‘eradicate’ the separatists. Even if that has so far happened largely under the western media radar. There’s still an army, and a government, and a newly elected president, waging a very bloody war against people with the same nationality as they have, inside their own country. The president may have been elected somewhat democratically, though east Ukraine refused to vote, but the – rest of the – government is still the same bunch that was installed by the US – Victoria Nuland, Jeff Pyatt – after the Maidan riots ousted elected president Yanukovich.

And in between all the allegations of Putin supplying arms to the separatists, a few things are missing. Putin cannot withdraw his support, whichever form it may have taken, because the risk of a genocide among Russian speaking people in east Ukraine is very real. Russia as a nation recognizes the moral obligation to protect those Russians who were cut off from Moscow when the Soviet Union fell and many new nations were formed from its ashes.

Yulia Tymoshenko, who may have lost the elections but remains a formidable force in Ukraine, has called multiple times for her Russian speaking compatriots to be eradicated, burned, and nuked. Kiev, time and again, and despite their Ukraine passports, labels the separatists terrorists. Because with terrorists you can do what you want. Cue Gitmo.

A second thing missing in translation is that the Ukraine army, despite the talk of Putin arming the other side, is much better armed. Where do they get their weapons? Who finances them? And who fights on their side? We know that there has been, and likely still is, input and cooperation from the likes of the CIA, Blackwater/Academi, right wing extreme government party Svoboda, and other – to our western view unsavory – elements.

The OSCE reports that in June and July, in the city of Lugansk alone, the Ukraine army and its helpers have killed 250 civilians and wounded 850, and that’s not including people living close to combat zones. East Ukraine has been under heavy fire since February, thousands of people have died, and we feign surprise that the separatists are suspicious of everything and everybody connected to the US and EU? And Putin has to withdraw his support for the rebels so west Ukraine, with our support, can finish off the remaining 4.5 million Russian speaking people in the east?

What are we going to do if it becomes clear that it wasn’t the rebels who shot down MH17, but the Ukraine army “we” support? Or maybe we should ask another question: what are the odds that we will ever find out what really happened? Both Russia and the US have tons of equipment monitoring the area, and it’s not likely that both don’t have a huge amount of additional information on the crash that for reasons we don’t know, they haven’t released to date.

One thing we do know is that the SBU, the Ukraine Security Service, has confiscated the taped conversations between the plane and air traffic control, which could clarify a lot about what happened, and taken them to an undisclosed location. The same SBU that has released – among many other ‘findings’ – a series of audio conversations it alleges are between various ‘separatists’, and which paint a damning portrait that strongly suggests they were responsible for downing the plane. But again, that sort of thing is easily fabricated, so no proof.

Reasonable doubt. That’s how you show respect. For victims, for loved ones, for democracy and for justice. From where I’m sitting, which happens to be Holland, far too many amongst us show neither such respect nor doubt nor reason. You would think and hope that 298 dead bodies deserve more than to be reduced to pawns in infantile blame games. They deserve that we should be better than that.

US Macro Suffers Longest Streak Of Weakness Since Lehman (Zero Hedge)

Despite the best efforts of The Fed, its apologists, and the commission-taking talking-heads to persuade the world that the US economy is picking up and set to reach escape velocity any minute… the fact is, the US economy (judged on data not fantasy) is hurting. Consensus expectations for 2014 US GDP growth have collapsed from over 3.00% to a mere 1.7% now. But what is more critical is the incessant bleating that data is picking up and suggests a 2nd half recovery… it doesn’t. US Macro surprise data has been negative for over 21 weeks… the longest such spell of disappointment since Lehman. A glance at the chart also shows something odd… US macro normally cycles back into the positive after dipping negative… as over-pessimism rotates to over-optimism – but this time the ‘bounce’ from over-pessimism failed in May. US macro surprise data is considerably weaker than last year.

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World GDP Hopes Are Collapsing (Zero Hedge)

Presented with no comment (except to note how different the “fact” in this chart is from the “fantasy” we hear spewed day after day about ‘recovery’ in the world’s economy)…

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Flint Manager Warns of Bankruptcy Over Retiree Cost (Bloomberg)

Flint may be Michigan’s second city to plunge into bankruptcy unless retirees accept cuts in health benefits that threaten to unravel a balanced budget, emergency manager Darnell Earley said. The specter intensifies the conflict over finances in the city of 100,000, which twice has been under state control. Like Detroit, which in 2013 filed the largest U.S. municipal bankruptcy, Flint has struggled with loss of population, jobs and revenue. The birthplace of General Motors has only half its population of 1960. “If we have no ability to mitigate the cost of retiree health care, that’s going to make it very difficult for the city to remain financially stable over the next few years,” Earley said in an interview at City Hall.

Without changes, retiree pension and health expenses would consume 32 percent of the $55 million general fund. As Detroit draws worldwide attention for its record $18 billion bankruptcy, Flint demonstrates the plight of U.S. cities where unfunded post-retirement costs rival or exceed pension liabilities. In Michigan alone in 2011, municipalities had nearly $13 billion in health-care liabilities for retirees, compared with about $3 billion for pensions. Flint is among 17 cities and school districts under some form of state control. “If Flint were to go to bankruptcy, that would highlight that this legacy-cost problem has to be addressed more globally,” said Eric Scorsone, a Michigan State University economist.

“Flint’s at the forefront, but a lot of cities are on the same train, and that train is headed for the cliff.” Michigan emergency managers have sweeping authority over their municipalities’ finances and structure, with power to reorganize, hire and to change union contracts. If Earley determined the city couldn’t pay for its liabilities and sustain services, he could recommend to Republican Governor Rick Snyder that the city file for court protection. “Bankruptcy is a point in the law, and it’s my duty to explore that if it appears we’re not going to be able to make it any other way,” he said. “Whether it’s the absolute next step or not, I can’t say. It would have to be explored. It’s in the law for a reason.”

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Fix Farms In A Few Countries And Feed 3 Billion More People (New Scientist)

Give us the right levers and we shall feed the world. The lion’s share of the world’s food production problems stem from just a handful of countries. If we could concentrate on these problem areas, we could potentially feed 3 billion more people and massively reduce the environmental damage from farming. “The way we’re growing agriculture right now is totally not sustainable,” says Paul West of the University of Minnesota in St Paul. West and his colleagues looked for “leverage points”: areas with the most potential to change how we grow food. They focused on the 17 crops that represent 86% of the world’s crop calories, and consume the most water and fertiliser. “They’re taking a high-altitude view of all the possible points that need to be made if we’re going to feed a planet full of people,” says Greg Asner of the Carnegie Institution for Science in Stanford, California. “It’s incredibly valuable to have that all in one place.”

West’s study suggests three fundamental areas where we can boost food production sustainably: increasing yields from unproductive farms, decreasing the waste of precious resources like water, and changing how we eat. He also identified the parts of the world where we could get the most bang for our buck (see map, below). First, we need to get more food from existing farms. West identified regions where yields are far too low, mostly in Africa, Asia and eastern Europe. He estimates that boosting yields in those areas to just 50% of the optimum could feed 850 million more people. Next, crops need to be grown more in a more environmentally friendly way. That means cutting greenhouse gas emissions – variously from deforestation, livestock, rice paddies and fertiliser use – while also wasting less water on unnecessary irrigation, and stopping the overuse of fertilisers, which causes water pollution.

The countries responsible for the most environmental damage in the way they farm are China, India, the US, Brazil, Indonesia, and Pakistan. And finally, we need to waste less food. Nearly 30 to 50% of food currently goes to waste. In theory, West says, eliminating all such waste in the US, India and China alone could provide enough food to feed 413 million more people per year. The problem of food waste is made worse by our increasing consumption of meat. Only 51% of crop production is used to feed people, and that figure is dropping. Most of the rest is used to feed animals, which wastes a proportion of calories in crops and so cuts the net amount of food available to people. As a result, letting a kilogram of beef go off, for example, squanders 24 times as many calories as wasting a kilogram of wheat. “Not all food waste is created equal,” says West. He says we should all eat less meat, pointing out that crops used for animal feed in the US, China, western Europe and Brazil could feed 2.4 billion people.

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California Poised To Shut Down 11 Local Oil Injection Wells (Bakersfield)

Seven independent oil companies have been ordered to halt state-approved wastewater injection work starting noon Monday out of concern they may be contaminating Kern County drinking water. Emergency orders issued Wednesday by the California Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources apply to 11 disposal wells east and northeast of Bakersfield. About 100 water wells are located within a mile radius of the disposal wells. Oil and water officials say the wells may have injected “produced water” – the toxic and sometimes radioactive liquid that comes up during oil production – and possibly injected fracking fluid at relatively shallow depths that contain relatively low salinity, oil-free water suitable for drinking and irrigation. State officials said they have found no evidence the underground injections, some approved by DOGGR as long ago as the 1970s and others very recently, have ever contaminated drinking or irrigation water.

Pollution has not been ruled out, however, as regulators conduct site inspections and await test results and other information from the companies. DOGGR’s action has come amid a year-old crackdown on industry practices for disposing of oil field fluids. But the orders are distinct in that recent scrutiny has originated with regional water officials focused not on injection wells but oil companies’ misuse of unlined sumps and drilling pits. There is an added sensitivity because agricultural water users and others are drilling ever-deeper wells to cope with the drought. “We need to make sure that the water that they’re going after, if it’s potable now, let’s make sure that it stays that way and we’re not injecting produced water,” said Jason Marshall, chief deputy director of DOGGR’s parent agency, the state Department of Conservation.

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California Halts Injection of Fracking Waste (ProPublica)

California officials have ordered an emergency shut-down of 11 oil and gas waste injection sites and a review more than 100 others in the state’s drought-wracked Central Valley out of fear that companies may have been pumping fracking fluids and other toxic waste into drinking water aquifers there. The state’s Division of Oil and Gas and Geothermal Resources on July 7 issued cease and desist orders to seven energy companies warning that they may be injecting their waste into aquifers that could be a source of drinking water, and stating that their waste disposal “poses danger to life, health, property, and natural resources.” The orders were first reported by the Bakersfield Californian, and the state has confirmed with ProPublica that its investigation is expanding to look at additional wells. The action comes as California’s agriculture industry copes with a drought crisis that has emptied reservoirs and cost the state $2.2 billion this year alone.

The lack of water has forced farmers across the state to supplement their water supply from underground aquifers, according to a study released this week by the University of California Davis. The problem is that at least 100 of the state’s aquifers were presumed to be useless for drinking and farming because the water was either of poor quality, or too deep underground to easily access. Years ago, the state exempted them from environmental protection and allowed the oil and gas industry to intentionally pollute them. But not all aquifers are exempted, and the system amounts to a patchwork of protected and unprotected water resources deep underground. Now, according to the cease and desist orders issued by the state, it appears that at least seven injection wells are likely pumping waste into fresh water aquifers protected by the law, and not other aquifers sacrificed by the state long ago.

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