Apr 112019
 
 April 11, 2019  Posted by at 7:08 pm Primers Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Salvador Dali Hallucination. Six Images of Lenin on a Grand Piano 1931

 

47 years ago in American Pie, Don McLean talked about The Day The Music Died. Or of course the music didn’t really die, but at the same time it did. “The three mean I admired most, the father, son and the holy ghost, they caught the last train for the coast, the day the music died.”

Back then you could still have claimed the country merely lost its innocence. And you could have said the same in 1861 or 1914 or 1941. Today, not to take anything away from music, or the song, something much bigger died. America itself died, not just its music or innocence. America didn’t just lose its innocence, it pled guilty.

No doubt most of you would proclaim that’s a gross exaggeration, and an insane hyperbole, but you would all be wrong, sorry. There’s no way back this time.

America, the United States, with all its initial prejudice and lethal screw-ups, was founded as a place where people could direct their own lives without having to fear any other party, let alone a government, that would stand in their way while they did it. And a big part of not having to fear one’s government is not having to fear that government purposely lying to its citizens. The Founding Fathers, for all their faults, got that right. And today erases all of that in one fell swoop.

That is what died today. Or, you know, it may have died much earlier, and a thousand times before as well, but with the arrest in London of Julian Assange, an Australian citizen wanted by the US Deep State, a myriad of strands connecting, and connected to a bloated dying corpse came together. And now we know there is no salvation possible. Today made it all terminal. America is no more. Or it is no longer what they tell you it stands for, whichever comes first.

And it’s not just America, mind you. ‘The UK is a serious country’, PM Theresa May said today when addressing Brexit. No it’s not, Theresa, it’s a banana republic hopelessly stuck in a spaghetti western and it no longer knows the rule of law. It sells people to the highest bidder in a meat market, be they Windrush, refugees from her Majesty’s wars in Libya, or just white and poor English, or Julian Assange.

The UK is a parody on a country, it’s a sordid piece of third rate slapstick. It kills people while trying to maintain the image of being a serious country. You know, whatever that is?! The British judge Assange faced today was bleeding mocking him, the arguably greatest journalist of this century and millennium. A serious country?

 

Julian Assange Branded ‘Narcissist’ By Judge As He Faces US Extradition

Julian Assange has been branded a “narcissist” by a judge as he faces both a UK prison sentence and being extradited to the US. The Metropolitan Police said the Australian hacker was initially detained at the Ecuadorian embassy for failing to surrender to court. He had been summoned in 2012 over an alleged rape in Sweden, where authorities are now considering reopening their investigation into those allegations.After arriving at a London police station on Thursday morning, the 47-year-old was additionally arrested on behalf of the US under an extradition warrant.


Mr Assange was taken to Westminster Magistrates’ Court and found guilty of breaching bail hours later. He faces a jail sentence of up to a year. He denied the offence, with lawyers arguing that he had a “reasonable excuse” could not expect a fair trial in the UK as its purpose was to “secure his delivery” to the US. District Judge Michael Snow described the defence as “laughable”, adding: “Mr Assange’s behaviour is that of a narcissist who cannot get beyond his own selfish interests. He hasn’t come close to establishing ‘reasonable excuse’.” He remanded Mr Assange in custody ahead of a future sentencing hearing at Southwark Crown Court.

 

And where was opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn when this all went on? Haven’t seen him, other then in the afternoon when he was ‘discussing’ Brexit details with May in Parliament on day 1021 since the Brexit referendum, while he should have been out in the street denouncing May and protecting Assange at the loudest voice there is.

Screw you, Jeremy, you’re a pathetic loser. No matter what else you do, there are times when you have to stand up and be counted. You were nowhere to be seen, you coward. Screw you again. And all of your family. A curse on y’all. You had a chance to be counted, and you whimped out so enormously only an elephant could whimp out more. Today was your day, and you were a no-show, again.

But don‘t you mind me, I’m not British and I’m not one of those ass-hat followers of you. I’m just someone calling you a coward. So, you know, your campaign team can keep polling and intervene as soon as they see too many ass-hats become concerned about Assange. Until then, who cares, it’s all in the numbers. It’s not as if you have any principles anyway. If you can screw up Brexit there’s no reason why you couldn’t screw up Assange’s situation as well.

 

As for the Donald, man, it’s just 6 days ago that I issued a well-meant warning to you, to tell you that those who are after Assange are the same people who are after you.

And now you’ve given those very people a huge stage to execute their anti-Assange and thereby their anti-Trump messages from. Mr. Trump, you’re helping Brennan and Clapper and Comey and their ilk persecute the only person who could ever stand up to them. And who did that better than you ever did. Because he’s so much smarter.

And where are all the media? Where are all the other governments? Where is the European Union? Where is Australia? Yes, Ecuador took away Assange’s citizenship too today, like that’s a piece of candy or something. Asylum, citizenship, they can be bought and sold whenever a bell tolls.

Why do we have international law anyway if nobody abides by any of it? You can’t just grant someone asylum, and then a citizenship, and then rescind it when you like on a rainy morning when your medication runs out or they’re on to you for blatant fraud, Lenin Moreno. Do that and all international law becomes null and void. Hereby.

 

Pardon me, I’ve just been, like hopefully many people are, so sad and angry and despondent today, all day. The entire world watched the music die today, and never realized it, and a man much smarter and braver and real than any of us is out there paying for our sins, and we have no media left to tell us an honest story about it, and George Orwell is laughing somewhere out there.

And I am still stupid enough to think that we can do better.

 

 

 

Mar 252019
 
 March 25, 2019  Posted by at 10:19 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Margaret Gillies Charles Dickens 1844

 

We Should All Be Celebrating The Collapse Of Hillary’s Big Lie (NYPost)
Rendition Plane, Increased Police Presence Raise Fears for Assange (Vos)
Russian Military Officials Arrive In Venezuela (G.)
‘Time’s up, Theresa’, Sun Newspaper Tells May (R.)
Tory MPs Threatened With General Election If They Defy Theresa May (Ind.)
Brexiters Pile On Pressure As May’s Deal Drifts Away (G.)
The European Union Has Bigger Problems To Deal With Than Brexit (G.)
Global Stocks Tumble As Bond Markets Sound US Recession Warning (R.)
Man Stole $122m From Facebook And Google By Sending Them Random Bills (BB)
Boeing To Brief Pilots, Regulators On Return Of 737 Max To Service (R.)
Erdogan Moots Renaming Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia A Mosque (AFP)
Despite Lawsuits, Bayer Boss Calls Monsanto Takeover ‘A Good Idea’ (AFP)

 

 

So many opinions on Mueller report. Picked this one because it’s still claiming that “Yes, Russians tried to tip a presidential election..”

That “info” comes from the same US intelligence agencies that have been fully discredited now.

We Should All Be Celebrating The Collapse Of Hillary’s Big Lie (NYPost)

Stick a fork in impeachment. It’s dead. Victory doesn’t get any sweeter for the winners. Or more important for our country. The results of the probe by special counsel Robert Mueller are a tremendous vindication for President Trump and the many millions of Americans who never doubted his innocence. The findings prove, once and for all time, that he won the 2016 election fair and square. Let me repeat the point: It is now a fact beyond any doubt whatsoever that Donald Trump is the legitimate 45th president of the United States. “Hail to the Chief,” this time with feeling. The great news of that settled truth is not limited to Republicans and Trump supporters. Every American can take comfort in this historic reaffirmation of our nation as exceptional, as the shining city on the hill for all mankind.

Think of it this way: Yes, Russians tried to tip a presidential election, especially through hacking into e-mail systems. They even tried to help Trump. Yet Mueller, after conducting the most exhaustive test ever of election integrity, reached this stunning conclusion: “The Special Counsel did not find that any US person or Trump campaign official or associate conspired or knowingly coordinated” with Russians “despite multiple offers from Russian-affiliated individuals to assist the Trump campaign.” No American — not a single one — took the Russian bait. And that includes every member of the Trump campaign. That is a fact worthy of celebration, for it shows our democracy is strong and our institutions uncompromised.

Other implications of the report’s findings are also enormous. We now know that Hillary Clinton and her supporters misled the country in claiming that the White House was stolen from her. She started the Russia, Russia, Russia hoax and her claims, aided by the Obama White House and magnified by a thoroughly partisan media, set in motion a wild-goose chase. [..] Perhaps there would have been a trade deal with China by now. Perhaps North Korea would have scuttled its nukes if it knew Trump wasn’t going anywhere for at least four years. Those are just some of the actual and potential consequences Clinton set in motion with her false claims.

In a better world, or if she were a better person, she would apologize and publicly acknowledge Trump’s legitimacy. I won’t hold my breath. But until she does, she should be shunned in public life. She has no credibility to speak on any issue or endorse any candidate. She has put the nation through hell all because she lost an election she should have won. Let’s remember, too, that her campaign actually did work with Russians, through FusionGPS and British agent Christopher Steele, to create a fictional scenario about Trump being compromised. Which brings us to today’s Democrats. They bought into Clinton’s Big Lie and built a House of Cards on smoke and mirrors. The collapse is total.

Read more …

Assange should be set free now there’s no collusion. Mueller is still a coward.

Rendition Plane, Increased Police Presence Raise Fears for Assange (Vos)

In four days, it will be a full year since WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange was severed from contact with the outside world by the government of Ecuador. Concern for Assange was heightened as the anniversary approaches after a U.S. Department of Justice jet previously used for the rendition of an accused Russian hacker landed in London on Tuesday and remained there for days, only to return to the U.S. on Saturday. The flight reportedly departed from Manassas, Virginia. WikiLeaks stated via Twitter regarding the flight: “Note that the Edward Snowden DoJ grab team plane N977GA also departed from Manassas, Virginia.”

WikiLeaks tweeted regarding the flight: “What is US Department of Justice jet ‘N996GA’ doing in London? The jet arrived on Tuesday from DC and was last noted rendering alleged Russian hacker Yevgeniy Nikulin to the US last year from the Czech Republic, causing a diplomatic incident with Russia.” Assange’s Twitter account, run by members of his legal team, also tweeted: “Note that the Edward Snowden DoJ grab team plane N977GA also departed from Manassas, Virginia.” In response to the news, Christine Assange said on social media: “This is of urgent and real concern! Under cover of the 24/7 media frenzy on the NZ Mosque shootings. Is the US planning to snatch my son Julian from the London Ecuador Embassy they have been trying to force him from, for a CIA rendition flight?”

While the jet remained in London, WikiLeaks quoted Assange’s lawyers describing an increase of plainclothes British police officers on the ground surrounding Ecuador’s London embassy: “A build up of plain clothes ear-piece wearing operatives around the Ecuador embassy in London in the last two days has been sighted by Julian Assange’s lawyers. There are normally 2-4 plainclothes British operatives present. The reason for the increase is not publicly known.”

Read more …

Russiagate, the sequel.

Russian Military Officials Arrive In Venezuela (G.)

Russian military officials have arrived in Venezuela to discuss equipment maintenance and training, and strategy, an official in Caracas has said. The statement came after a Russian-flagged cargo plane and an airliner were spotted at Maiquetia airport outside Caracas guarded by a contingent of Venezuelan national guardsmen. A Venezuelan official said the aircraft arrived this weekend as part of ongoing military cooperation between the two allies. Flightradar24, a flight-tracking site, showed the flight path on Saturday of what it listed as a Russian air force plane, apparently headed to Caracas while flying across the Caribbean.

Javier Mayorca, a Venezuelan journalist, tweeted that a Russian cargo plane with military equipment also arrived in Caracas on Saturday. He said around 100 Russian soldiers led by General Vasily Tonkoshkurov, head of the mobilisation directorate of Russia’s armed forces, disembarked along with about 35 tons of equipment. A picture of a Russian-flagged aircraft posted on social media showed men in uniform clustered around it on the tarmac.

Read more …

Wonder about the role of the media in the US? Try this one on too.

‘Time’s up, Theresa’, Sun Newspaper Tells May (R.)

Rupert Murdoch’s The Sun newspaper said in a front page editorial that Prime Minister Theresa May must on Monday announce she will stand down as soon as her Brexit deal is approved and the United Kingdom has left the European Union. “Time’s up, Theresa,” the newspaper said on its front page. The newspaper said her one chance of getting the deal approved by parliament was to name a date for her departure.

Read more …

Cut it out! You’re offending your entire nation.

Tory MPs Threatened With General Election If They Defy Theresa May (Ind.)

Cabinet ministers are openly at war over solving the Brexit crisis, after MPs were threatened with a general election if they try to force through an alternative to Theresa May’s deal. As claims of a plot to topple the prime minister were denied by potential replacements, a bid by the Commons to seize control this week was dramatically torpedoed by the Brexit secretary. Stephen Barclay vowed that any softer exit plan that crossed Tory red lines would be rejected, warning MPs tempted to vote for it that “the risk of a general election increases”. Extraordinarily, just moments earlier, the chancellor Philip Hammond had urged MPs of all parties to “get themselves together in a room” to find a solution, admitting Ms May’s deal is all but dead.

Mr Hammond also gave a big boost to the campaign for a fresh Brexit referendum – a day after up to a million people packed London in support – describing it as “a perfectly coherent proposition” that “deserves to be considered”. Meanwhile, a parade of Brexiteer Tories drove to the door of Chequers, the prime minister’s country retreat, some to urge her to set a timetable for quitting. However, as both the mooted candidates to take over as caretaker – David Lidington and Michael Gove – rushed out denials of interest, no cabinet coup appeared imminent. Despairing Tories feared the prime minister would not listen to pleas that the only way to save her deal is to fall on her sword immediately afterwards. Others believe it would fail to make the difference anyway.

Read more …

Hope they all dance together naked around Stonehenge at night. Not that I have to see them do it.

Brexiters Pile On Pressure As May’s Deal Drifts Away (G.)

Theresa May’s prospects of getting her Brexit deal through parliament this week dramatically receded on Sunday night after a high-stakes summit with Boris Johnson and other leading hard-Brexiters at her country retreat broke up without agreement. Tory rebels present said that the prime minister repeated “all the same lines” about her deal and that nothing new emerged during the three-hour meeting, at which Jacob Rees-Mogg, Iain Duncan Smith and Dominic Raab were also present. One source said May was told by some of those present, including Rees-Mogg, that to get her Brexit deal through she needed to spell out when she was quitting No 10 so that another prime minister could lead the next phase of EU trade negotiations. But the prime minister did not respond to the suggestion.

The talks took place amid reports of an imminent coup to remove the prime minister – claims which were forcefully denied by Michael Gove, David Lidington and Philip Hammond. But before a critical cabinet meeting on Monday morning, May remained in a perilous position, with no breakthrough and Downing Street only able to tell reporters that she had discussed “whether there is sufficient support” to hold a meaningful vote this week. A front-page editorial in Monday’s Sun urges May to quit, with the headline “Time’s Up, Theresa”, saying she should announce that she will stand down as soon as her Brexit deal is approved and the UK leaves the EU. MPs are due to vote on Monday night on whether to take control of the parliamentary agenda and hold a series of indicative votes on alternative options, including a customs union and a second referendum.

Read more …

Lagging industries.

The European Union Has Bigger Problems To Deal With Than Brexit (G.)

As the clock has ticked down towards Brexit, the state of the UK has attracted even more attention than normal. Every scrap of official data and every survey of business opinion have been pored over by leavers and remainers alike. Much less attention, understandably enough, has been paid to what is happening in the rest of the European Union, where the recent news has been poor. The frustration of the leaders of the other 27 EU countries towards Theresa May is that Europe has plenty of issues that need addressing, with Brexit not even the most serious of them. The EU’s biggest problem is that its economic model has aged alongside its population. Europe has plenty of world-class companies but, unlike the United States, none of them were set up in the past 25 years. In Europe’s golden age, Volkswagen was a rival to Ford, and Siemens could go toe to toe with General Electric.

But there is no European Google, Facebook or Amazon and in the emerging technologies of the fourth Industrial Revolution, such as artificial intelligence, Europe is nowhere. China is making faster progress than Europe in the development of machine learning and has companies that pose a threat to the giants of Silicon Valley. That’s why China rather than Europe is the main target for Donald Trump’s tariff war. When plans for the euro were being drawn up 30 years ago, the assumption was that the single currency would make the single market work more efficiently and so generate faster growth. It hasn’t happened. The performance of the eurozone countries has got worse not better, but so much political capital has been invested in the monetary union project that there is an unwillingness to accept as much.

Read more …

Wait. US or EU?

Global Stocks Tumble As Bond Markets Sound US Recession Warning (R.)

Investors ditched shares on Monday and fled to the safety of bonds as risk assets fell out of favor on growing fears of a U.S. recession, sending global yields plunging. The gloomy mood was expected to spread across Europe and U.S. markets, Spreadbetters showed, with London’s FTSE futures off 0.3 percent and E-minis for the S&P 500 skidding 0.5 percent. MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan dropped 1.5 percent to a one-week trough in a broad equities sell-off in the region. Japan’s Nikkei hit a five week low after diving 3.1 percent for its largest one-day percentage fall since late December. South Korea’s Kospi index declined 1.7 percent while Australian shares faltered 1.1 percent. Chinese shares was also in the red with the blue-chip CSI 300 index down 1.4 percent.

Concerns about the health of the world economy heightened last week after cautious remarks by the U.S. Federal Reserve sent 10-year treasury yields to the lowest since early 2018. U.S. 10-year treasury yields were last 1.9 basis points below three-month rates after yields inverted for the first time since 2007 on Friday. Historically, an inverted yield curve – where long-term rates fall below short-term – has signaled an upcoming recession. “The bond market price action is an enormous blaring siren to anyone trying to be optimistic on stocks,” JPMorgan analysts said in a note to clients. “Growth, and bonds/yield curves, will be the only thing stocks should be focused on going forward and it’s very hard to envision any type of rally until economic confidence stabilizes and bonds reverse,” it added.

Read more …

“He’s agreed to forfeit about $50m. It’s not clear what’s happened to the other $73m..”

Man Stole $122m From Facebook And Google By Sending Them Random Bills (BB)

Last week, Evaldas Rimasauskas of Lithuania plead guilty to US wire fraud, aggravated identity theft, and money laundering charges, admitting that he had stolen $99m from Facebook and $23m from Google between 2013 and 2015. Rimasauskas’s grift was pretty bold. He merely sent Google and Facebook invoices for items they hadn’t purchased and that he hadn’t provided, which the companies paid anyway. The invoices were accompanied by “forged invoices, contracts, and letters that falsely appeared to have been executed and signed by executives and agents of the Victim Companies, and which bore false corporate stamps embossed with the Victim Companies’ names, to be submitted to banks in support of the large volume of funds that were fraudulently transmitted via wire transfer.”

He also spoofed emails that appeared to come from corporate execs. Apparently, no one checked first to see if these corresponded to invoices/POs that had been issued within the companies. Rimasauskas was pretending to be the giant Taiwanese hardware manufacturer Quanta Computer Inc, and had registered a company in Latvia with the same name. He’s agreed to forfeit about $50m. It’s not clear what’s happened to the other $73m, but Rimasauskas was a prolific and baroque money-launderer who squirreled cash away in Cyprus, Lithuania, Hungary, Slovakia, and Latvia. Google has said that “We detected this fraud and promptly alerted the authorities. We recouped the funds and we’re pleased this matter is resolved.”

Read more …

A billion dollar party?!

Boeing To Brief Pilots, Regulators On Return Of 737 Max To Service (R.)

Boeing Co said it invited more than 200 global airline pilots, technical leaders and regulators for an information session on Wednesday as it looks to return the 737 MAX to commercial service. The meeting is a sign that Boeing’s planned software patch is nearing completion, though it will still need regulatory approval. Over the weekend, Ethiopian Airlines executives had questioned whether Boeing had told pilots enough about “aggressive” software that pushes the plane’s nose down, a focus of investigation into a deadly crash in Ethiopia this month that led to the global grounding of 737 MAX jets. The informational session in Renton, Washington on Wednesday is part of a plan to reach all current and many future 737 MAX operators and their home regulators to discuss software and training updates to the jet, Boeing said in a statement.

Read more …

World no. 1 symbol of secularism and peace between religions. Kemal Ataturk himself made it that.

Erdogan Moots Renaming Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia A Mosque (AFP)

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Sunday mooted the possibility of renaming Istanbul’s Hagia Sofia museum as a mosque, in comments during a television interview. Asked whether the entrance fee to the city landmark might be waived, he said: “It’s not impossible… but we would not do it under the name ‘museum’ but ‘Hagia Sophia mosque’.” He added: “Tourists come and go at the Blue Mosque. Do they pay anything? … Well, we will do the same with the Hagia Sofia.” Erdogan, who is a former mayor of Istanbul, is campaigning for votes for his Justice and Development Party (AKP) ahead of municipal elections on March 31.

The former church and mosque, now a museum, often sparks tensions between Christians and Muslims over Islamic activities held there including the reading of verses from the Koran or collective prayers. Its secular status allows believers of all faiths to meditate, reflect or simply enjoy its astonishing architecture. But calls for it to serve again as a mosque have caused anger among Christians and raised tensions between historic foes Turkey and Greece, both NATO members. Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras visited the Hagia Sophia in February. “You can feel the burden of history here,” he told AFP. Greece has repeatedly expressed concern over efforts to change the museum’s status.

[..] The Hagia Sophia was first built as a church in the sixth century under the Christian Byzantine Empire as the centrepiece of its capital Constantinople, today’s Istanbul. Almost immediately after the conquest of Constantinople by the Muslim Ottomans in 1453, it was converted into a mosque before becoming a secular museum in a key reform of the new post-Ottoman Turkish authorities under Mustafa Kemal Ataturk in the 1930s. Ataturk was the founder of the Turkish republic.

Read more …

“Bayer has made one of takeovers w/greatest cap destruction in econ history. Once biggest comp in Germany, Bayer has lost €33.6bn in mkt cap since final takeover of Monsanto. W/ €59.3bn now #6 in Germany, valued ONLY 1.2* book.”

Despite Lawsuits, Bayer Boss Calls Monsanto Takeover ‘A Good Idea’ (AFP)

The boss of German chemicals giant Bayer insisted Sunday its multi-billion dollar takeover of Monsanto was a “good idea”, despite huge legal costs piling up over its Roundup weedkiller. “The Monsanto acquisition was and is a good idea,” Werner Baumann told newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung, when asked if he would have changed his mind about buying the US group if he could. Bayer bought Monsanto for $63 billion but the deal has turned out to be plagued with other massive costs. Just two months after the acquisition was completed, Monsanto lost a case to a school groundskeeper suffering from terminal non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, who had sued the company over the glyphosate weedkillers Roundup and Ranger Pro.

Monsanto was initially ordered to pay $289 million to Johnson, before the damages were reduced to $78.5 million. Bayer has filed an appeal. The company suffered a new set back this month as a US jury ruled that Roundup was a “substantial factor” in another case brought by an amateur gardener who was suffering from cancer. It now faces a total of 11,200 US cases over Roundup and its active ingredient glyphosate, a herbicide key to Monsanto’s business model that has come in for intense scrutiny around the world. Werner insisted the acquisition of Monsanto was carried out after careful due diligence.

Bayer has also pointed to findings from regulators around the world, especially in advanced economies like the US, Europe and Canada, and reams of scientific studies as proof of the safety of its product. “Regulatory authorities around the world consider glyphosate-based herbicides as safe when used as directed,” the group has argued, highlighting “800 rigorous studies” of glyphosate’s effects. The World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer found in 2015 that glyphosate is “probably carcinogenic,” although the European Food Safety Authority and the European Chemicals Agency have not issued similar judgments. Since the Monsanto takeover was completed, Bayer’s stock has shed almost 40% of its value.

Read more …

Mar 242019
 
 March 24, 2019  Posted by at 10:29 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Edward Hopper New York movie 1938

 

Mueller – The Name That Ended All Mainstream Media Credibility (RT)
The Accountability That Must Follow Mueller’s Report (Solomon)
Russiagate Is WMD Times A Million (Matt Taibbi)
As Tory MPs Plot May’s Downfall, Her Last Allies Battle For Her Survival (G.)
Pro-Remain MPs Draw Up Plans To Vote On Revoking Article 50 (O.)
‘One Million’ Protesters Join Historic March For Second Referendum (Ind.)
The Countries with the Most Monstrous Corporate Debt Pileups (WS)
UK Fracking Plan ‘Will Release Same CO2 As 300 Million New Cars’ (O.)
Greek Homes In Airbnb Fever (AFP)
Hunt For Bogus Asthma Cure Threatens Pangolins (O.)

 

 

I could gloat and congratulate myself for having resisted the anti-Trump Russiagate mania for 2-3 years. But I’m occupied by wondering where this will go from here. Same with Brexit: what will all this folly lead to?

Mueller – The Name That Ended All Mainstream Media Credibility (RT)

Important pundits and news networks have served up an impressive display of denials, evasions and on-air strokes after learning that Robert Mueller has ended his probe without issuing a single collusion-related indictment. The Special Counsel delivered his final report to Attorney General William Barr for review on Friday, with the Justice Department confirming that there will be no further indictments related to the probe. The news dealt a devastating blow to the sensational prophesies of journalists, analysts and entire news networks, who for nearly two years reported ad nauseam that President Donald Trump and his inner circle were just days away from being carted off to prison for conspiring with the Kremlin to interfere in the 2016 presidential election.

Some journalists and television anchors took to Twitter and the airwaves on Friday night to acknowledge that the media severely misreported Donald Trump’s alleged ties to Russia, as well as what Mueller’s probe was likely to find. “How could they let Trump off the hook?” an inconsolable Chris Matthews asked NBC reporter Ken Dilanian during a segment on MSNBC’s ‘Hardball’. Dilanian tried to comfort the MSNBC host with some of his signature punditry. “My only conclusion is that the president transmitted to Mueller that he would take the Fifth. He would never talk to him and therefore, Mueller decided it wasn’t worth the subpoena fight,” he expertly mused. Actually, there were several journalists who conjured up a reason why Mueller didn’t throw the book at Trump, even though the president is clearly a Putin puppet.

“It’s certainly possible that Trump may emerge from this better than many anticipated. However! Consensus has been that Mueller would follow DOJ rules and not indict a sitting president. I.e. it’s also possible his report could be very bad for Trump, despite ‘no more indictments,'” concluded Mark Follman, national affairs editor at Mother Jones, who presumably, and very sadly, was not being facetious. Revered news organizations were quick to artfully modify their expectations regarding Mueller’s findings. “What is collusion and why is Robert Mueller unlikely to mention it in his report on Trump and Russia?” a Newsweek headline asked following Friday’s announcement. Three months earlier, Newsweek had meticulously documented all the terrible “collusion” committed by Donald Trump and his inner circle.

The denials, evasions and bizarre hot takes are made even more poignant by the fact that just days ago, there was still serious talk about Trump’s entire family being hauled off to prison. “You can’t blame MSNBC viewers for being confused. They largely kept dissenters from their Trump/Russia spy tale off the air for 2 years. As recently as 2 weeks ago, they had @JohnBrennan strongly suggesting Mueller would indict Trump family members on collusion as his last act,” journalist Glenn Greenwald tweeted. While the Mueller report has yet to be released to the public, the lack of indictments makes it clear that whatever was found, nothing came close to the vast criminal conspiracy alleged by virtually the entire American media establishment.

“You have been lied to for 2 years by the MSM. No Russian collusion by Trump or anyone else. Who lied? Head of the CIA, NSA,FBI,DOJ, every pundit every anchor. All lies,” wrote conservative activist Chuck Woolery. Kim Dotcom was more blunt, but said it all: “Mueller – The name that ended all mainstream media credibility.”

Read more …

John Solomon start out saying Trump’s lawyers have been right in their approach to Mueller.

The Accountability That Must Follow Mueller’s Report (Solomon)

Now, Mueller’s investigations leave one major mission unfinished: meting out justice to the intelligence, congressional, FBI and DOJ officials who appear to have used a political dirty trick to falsely weave an unproven narrative of Russia collusion. Unverified political opposition research never should be treated as actionable intelligence or Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) evidence, as it was in this case. Just hours before Mueller’s report arrived, new evidence emerged of just how egregious the FBI acted in the early days of the Russia probe.

Fox News’s brilliant reporter Catherine Herridge obtained new text messages Friday showing Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe and his chief lawyer, Lisa Page, were discussing credibility issues and “bias” about a key human source whose work was to support the FISA warrant used to first spy on the Trump campaign in October 2016. Those credibility issues likely were hidden from the judges who approved the warrant of Trump campaign adviser Carter Page (no relation to Lisa Page). As I have reported, the FBI also possesses emails showing concerns with the evidence it was going to use to support the FISA warrant.

Likewise the bureau didn’t disclose to the court that: • the “Steele dossier” that was the main FISA evidence was paid for with funds from Hillary Clinton’s campaign and the Democratic Party; • Christopher Steele, the dossier’s author, had told a senior DOJ official he was desperate to defeat Trump; • most of the dossier was not verified before it was used as evidence of alleged Trump-Russia collusion; and • agents collected statements from key defendants such as Papadopoulos and Carter Page during interactions with an FBI informant that strongly suggested their innocence. Such omissions are so glaring as to constitute defrauding a federal court. And each and every participant to those omissions needs to be brought to justice.

Read more …

Prediction: the media are going to dig in.

Russiagate Is WMD Times A Million (Matt Taibbi)

Nobody wants to hear this, but news that Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller is headed home without issuing new charges is a death-blow for the reputation of the American news media. As has long been rumored, the former FBI chief’s independent probe will result in multiple indictments and convictions, but no “presidency-wrecking” conspiracy charges, or anything that would meet the layman’s definition of “collusion” with Russia. With the caveat that even this news might somehow turn out to be botched, the key detail in the many stories about the end of the Mueller investigation was best expressed by the New York Times: “A senior Justice Department official said that Mr. Mueller would not recommend new indictments.”

The Times tried to soften the emotional blow for the millions of Americans trained in these years to place hopes for the overturn of the Trump presidency in Mueller. Nobody even pretended it was supposed to be a fact-finding mission, instead of an act of faith. The Special Prosecutor literally became a religious figure during the last few years, with votive candles sold in his image and Saturday Night Live cast members singing “All I Want for Christmas is You” to him featuring the rhymey line: “Mueller please come through, because the only option is a coup.” The Times story today tried to preserve Santa Mueller’s reputation, noting Trump’s Attorney General William Barr’s reaction was an “endorsement” of the fineness of Mueller’s work:

“In an apparent endorsement of an investigation that Mr. Trump has relentlessly attacked as a “witch hunt,” Mr. Barr said Justice Department officials never had to intervene to keep Mr. Mueller from taking an inappropriate or unwarranted step.” Mueller, in other words, never stepped out of the bounds of his job description. But could the same be said for the news media?

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They should all go. Call elections, call off Brexit for now. This has become a threat to the UK itself.

As Tory MPs Plot May’s Downfall, Her Last Allies Battle For Her Survival (G.)

Tory insiders described the party’s atmosphere as “end of days”. May was in her Chequers retreat on Sunday, talking tactics to colleagues. She faces resignations from both wings of her cabinet should her Brexit deal be voted down this week, as expected. One of her team said they expected Brexit to come down to a “blunt choice between no deal or a customs union [with the EU]”. Pro-Remain ministers will not tolerate any endorsement of a no-deal Brexit. But some pro-Brexit ministers have said that May could not carry on in No 10 unless she backed a no-deal Brexit. “It is being said that the only way she could stay on as prime minister is if she backed no-deal,” said a cabinet source. “That is where the party is – anything else would cause a huge division.”

While accepting that May faces a terminal loss of support, some senior ministers are also warning that toppling her now would unleash a general election and a leadership fight that would be “toxic” for the Tories. “It is much better that one person is held responsible for all this mess,” said one senior minister.“If you get shot of her this week, you can almost guarantee an election and a whole set of problems.” There is no clear plan of what would happen should May stand down. Some assume that her de facto deputy, David Lidington, would take over. However, seen as a pro-Remain minister, he would also face serious challenges from Tory MPs if he attempted to engineer a soft Brexit. One minister said: “The idea that everyone would step back and allow David Lidington to deliver a soft Brexit is absurd.”

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A national government anyone?

Pro-Remain MPs Draw Up Plans To Vote On Revoking Article 50 (O.)

Pro-Remain MPs are drawing up plans for a vote on revoking article 50 as an emergency measure to stop Britain crashing out of the EU, after an online petition to cancel Brexit became the most popular ever. By Saturday night more than 4.6 million people had signed the petition on the parliament website, which states: “A People’s Vote may not happen – so vote now”. Public discussion about halting Brexit was considered politically toxic until just days ago. But that shifted last week as the prospect of crashing out drew closer and the number of petition signatures rose dramatically. A cross-party group of parliamentarians is now examining the possibility of cancelling the Brexit process, following concerns that Theresa May could end up backing Tory MPs who favour a no-deal departure if her own withdrawal agreement is rejected again.

They are planning to table an amendment to Brexit legislation closer to the day of Britain’s scheduled departure from the EU. The European court of justice ruled late last year that Britain could unilaterally revoke article 50, although not just to buy time. Writing on theguardian.com, the Tory MP Phillip Lee said that the people had to be given an opportunity to reconsider Brexit and that one way of allowing this to happen would be to revoke article 50. “Mrs May should ensure that the UK has the time and the space to do this in a properly considered way – either by seeking a long extension of article 50, or by taking back control and revoking it altogether.”

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One time is not enough. They should be there again today, and tomorrow. Will they?

‘One Million’ Protesters Join Historic March For Second Referendum (Ind.)

An estimated 1 million people staged one of the biggest marches in British history to demand a second referendum on Brexit and for the public to have the Final Say on the gathering crisis. The streets of central London were clogged with protesters from across the country, urging politicians – faced with the country potentially crashing out of the EU in just three weeks’ time – to hand the decision back to the people. Aerial cameras captured the spectacular scenes of the vast throng winding its way to outside the Houses of Parliament to hear passionate speeches from MPs of all parties.

Perhaps the most dramatic picture was the unfurling of an enormous banner with the pre-referendum words of David Davis, the Brexit-supporting Tory MP: “If a democracy cannot change, it ceases to be a democracy.” Among the speakers were Tom Watson, Labour’s deputy leader, who called out to Theresa May, saying: “Have a look out of the window prime minister. Open your curtains. Switch on your TV. Here are the people.” Some in the crowd cried out “Where’s Jeremy Corbyn?” – the Labour leader, who was later revealed to be campaigning for his party ahead of local elections in Lancashire. Michael Heseltine, the Conservative grandee, used his speech to express “contempt” for Brexiteers “wrapped in a Union Jack” who invoke Winston Churchill for their cause.

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Wolf Richter and an insane amount of graphs. Pretty scary.

The Countries with the Most Monstrous Corporate Debt Pileups (WS)

US corporate debt, excluding debt by banks – so “nonfinancial” corporate debt – has surged in recent years by all measures and to such an extent that it was featured prominently in the Fed’s Financial Stability Report, in terms of what might trigger the next financial crisis. The Fed is counting total nonfinancial business debts, which include the debts of businesses that are not incorporated. It found about $17 trillion in debts.

A narrower measure is nonfinancial corporate debt, which amounts to $15 trillion. This is up a breath-taking 40% from the prior peak in 2008. The Bank for International Settlements (BIS) uses this measure to compare how corporate debt stacks up in different countries. One of its measures is corporate debt denominated in local currency; and in order to determine the relative size of this debt, the BIS expresses it as a percent of nominal local-currency GDP. So Chinese debt in yuan as a percent of Chinese GDP in yuan. By this measure, the US nonfinancial corporate debt-to-GDP ratio has ballooned to the highest ever: a stunning whopping 73.9% of GDP:

The BIS also converts local-currency debt to dollars, so that the total debts can be compared from one country to another. And the US corporate debt of $15 trillion pales compared to China’s corporate debt of $19.7 trillion. But that is down from the $21.1 trillion in Q1 2018, at which point Chinese authorities got serious about deleveraging the corporate sector. The monstrous pileup of corporate debt in China happened in just 12 years:

China’s economy, while growing much faster than the US economy, is still quite a bit smaller than the US economy, when measured by GDP in US dollars. And so among the larger economies, China’s corporate-debt-to-GDP ratio is unrivaled (though there are some small economies with special tax laws that blow right past China for other reasons, and we’ll get to those in a moment). The data for China goes back only to 2006. Note the effects of China’s efforts to deleverage its corporate sector, with corporate debt-to-GDP ratio now down to 152.9%. But China is only in 7th Place by debt-to-GDP!

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But the profits!

UK Fracking Plan ‘Will Release Same CO2 As 300 Million New Cars’ (O.)

The government’s fracking proposals would release the same amount of greenhouse gas emissions as almost 300 million new cars, fatally undermining ministers’ obligation to tackle the escalating climate crisis, according to new research. Analysis by the Labour party shows that the amount of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere if the government’s plans go ahead would be the same as the lifetime emissions of 286 million cars – or 29 new coal-fired power plants. The findings come as ministers’ efforts to kickstart their fracking proposals face growing resistance, with defeat in the courts, fierce local objections and opposition from Labour and Tory councils alike.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, who was in Lancashire on Saturday to join the anti-fracking campaign in the region, said a future Labour government would ban fracking “once and for all”. “The Conservatives’ fracking plans will damage our environment and fly in the face of community opposition,” he said. “There is a clear alternative to fracking. Clean, renewable energy is the future of our economy and will create more than 400,000 jobs as part of Labour’s green industrial revolution.” Concerns about drilling flared in the run-up to Christmas when energy company Cuadrilla was forced to pause operations near Blackpool three times after drilling caused small earthquakes that breached government safety limits.

Several local authorities – including London, Manchester, Leeds, Wakefield, Hull and York – have expressed opposition to fracking. There is also opposition from many Tories. In Westminster, almost two dozen Tory MPs are reported to be against fracking and willing to “destroy the government’s majority” if it tries to weaken planning laws.

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I’m seeing it happen around me here in Athens. I’m staying in Koukaki. Very destructive.

Greek Homes In Airbnb Fever (AFP)

For Dimitra Dionysopoulou, who lives in the shadow of the Acropolis, there is no mistaking the signs of the Airbnb takeover in her neighbourhood. “Renovation noise, debris disposal bins on every street, and rolling luggage,” said the 50-year-old Athenian mother. Dionysopoulou has lived her entire life in the middle-class district of Koukaki, now in the midst of a home-sharing frenzy. In 2016, it was named Airbnb’s fifth fastest growing neighbourhood globally with an 800-percent jump in activity. Its selling point? Walking distance from one of the world’s most visited archaeological sites, as well as the state-of-the-art Acropolis museum. Hundreds of apartments in Koukaki’s ageing concrete buildings are now on offer.

Rents have doubled and entire families of tenants have been pushed out by cash-hungry owners, said Dionysopoulou. “Three families I know have already left, and we are currently trying to find a home for a fourth,” she told AFP. [..] Dionysopoulou is not alone in feeling that the Airbnb phenomenon, as in other major cities, has run amok. Greek authorities this year belatedly introduced registration and tax rules for Airbnb homeowners. According to Angelos Skiadas, head of Greece’s tenant association, the home-sharing craze has even spread to far-off Athens suburbs with no tourist interest. “Homeowners think this is a cure-all that will solve their problems for life. Many use Airbnb as a threat (to raise the rent),” he said.

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More of my friends leave every single day.

Hunt For Bogus Asthma Cure Threatens Pangolins (O.)

One of nature’s most remarkable creatures, the pangolin, is being driven to extinction as hunting and trafficking have soared in recent years. Studies have discovered that hundreds of thousands of these distinctive, scaly animals are now being killed every year to satisfy markets in Asia, making it the most trafficked and poached mammal on Earth. The pangolin is hunted for its meat – and also for its scales, which are believed to have important medicinal properties as cures for poor circulation, skin complaints and asthma. Last January, authorities in Hong Kong seized 8.3 tonnes of pangolin scales in a shipment from Nigeria bound for Vietnam.

It was one of the largest confiscation of the animal’s scales ever made and its weight suggests that around 13,800 animals died to make up the consignment. In addition, in February, Malaysian customs officers seized 1,800 boxes that contained 30 tonnes of frozen pangolins and pangolin parts. Ironically, the confiscation was made only a few days before World Pangolin Day was held on 16 February this year. “We simply do not know if pangolins can withstand this level of hunting,” said Daniel Ingram of University College London. “The problem is compounded by the fact we do not have reliable pangolin population estimates.” Ingram is lead author of a paper on pangolin trafficking that has just been published in the journal Global Ecology and Conservation.

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Mar 152019
 


 

 

49 Dead In New Zealand Mosque Shootings (AFP)
Australian, New Zealand Students Kick Off Global Climate Change Strike (R.)
UK MPs Back Brexit Delay As Votes Lay Bare Cabinet Divisions (G.)
Tusk Pushes EU27 Leaders To Be Open To Long Brexit Delay (G.)
8 Top Ministers Refuse To Back Theresa May’s Article 50 Extension (Ind.)
Brexit Has Finally Broken The British Political System (Ind.)
The Most Splendid Housing Bubbles in Canada Deflate (WS)
House Votes 420-0 For Mueller Report To Be Made Public (AP)
FBI, DOJ Bias and Intent Prevented Trump Defensive Briefing (Sara Carter)
Boeing To Pause 737 Max Deliveries After Groundings, Crashes (MW)
Ice Ages Triggered By Massive Collisions At Earth’s Equator (Ind.)
Rural America Is Ready For Some Sort Of A New Deal, Preferably Green (G.)

 

 

In late March 2012 Nicole and I were in Christchurch on a lecture tour. It was 13 months after the Feb 2011 earthquake. The devastation was still pretty much complete. The resilience of the people was something to behold.

The entire city center was cordoned off. Strange to see it is again today; the entire city is under lockdown.

Today, all of the world press waits with baited breath for the BIG WORD to come out: and finally the PM calls it a ‘terrorist’ attack. As if that alters anything at all. Like all the ‘world leaders’ saying their hearts and prayers are with the victims. Then again, if they don’t make these asinine comments, they come under fire for not making asinine comments.

If I were New Zealand’s government, and Australia’s, I’d say this is not the time for the countries’ white populations to speak. Let the Maori do the talking instead. It’s their land.

49 Dead In New Zealand Mosque Shootings (AFP)

Attacks on two Christchurch mosques left at least 49 dead Friday, with one gunman — identified as an Australian extremist — apparently livestreaming the assault that triggered the lockdown of the New Zealand city. In what appeared to be the worst attack against Muslims in a western country, witnesses spoke of victims being shot at close range, with women and children believed to be among those killed. “It is clear that this can now only be described as a terrorist attack,” said Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, saying it marked “one of New Zealand’s darkest days”.

“From what we know, it does appear to have been well planned,” she said, adding that in addition to the dead another 20 people were seriously injured. The gunman at one mosque was an Australian-born citizen, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said in Sydney, describing him as “an extremist, right-wing, violent terrorist”. It was not immediately clear how many attackers were involved, but Ardern said three men had been taken into custody. Two IEDs (improvised explosive devices) were also found and neutralised by the military, police said.

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There are more positive things happening down under as well. And I say that despite the fact that I think this is not a smart thing at all. These kids just get rounded up by politicians and businesses seeking to make money and power from green initiatives. While claiming we can all get rich(er) from changing to renewables. Nonsense. Ask these kids how much GDP they are willing to sacrifice, and take it from there.

Australian, New Zealand Students Kick Off Global Climate Change Strike (R.)

“Climate change is worse than Voldemort,” read a handmade sign carried by one student in Wellington, referring to the evil wizard in the hugely popular Harry Potter books and films. “The oceans are rising, so are we,” read another in Sydney. Student protests in capitals and cities from Wellington to Melbourne and Sydney drew tens of thousands of people, with more demonstrations planned later in the day in Asia, Europe and the United States. The worldwide student strike movement started in August 2018, when 16-year-old Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg began protesting outside her parliament on school days. She has since been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.

“If we don’t do something, it’ll be our lives affected, not the 60-year-old politicians,” said Sydney student Callum Frith, 15, who was wearing his school uniform. “We need action.” Elsewhere in Asia, about 60 students protested at government house in the Thai capital of Bangkok, holding cardboard signs to campaign against plastic. Thailand is one of the world’s top marine plastic polluters. “As youths who will inherit the land, we gather here to demand that the government work with us to solve these problems,” said 17-year-old Thiti Usanakul, of student-led group Grin Green International. The group was later invited to meet officials at the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment in two weeks.

[..] New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, who has pledged NZ$100 million ($68 million) to cut greenhouse gas emissions, supports the strikes, saying teenagers should not wait for voting age to use their voices. That contrasts with politicians in Australia and Britain who have rebuked them for cutting class. “For action on issues that they think is important, they should do that after school or on weekends,” Dan Tehan, Australia’s education minister, told reporters ahead of protests in Melbourne.

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Nothing tells you more about the current state of Britain than the way this is reported in the UK press. The MPs CAN’T vote for a delay, they can only vote to give May PERMISSION to ASK all 27 EU nations for a delay. So there’s nothing like “..MPs voted 413 to 202 to push back Brexit to at least 30 June.” They voted to allow May to politely ask for that.

UK MPs Back Brexit Delay As Votes Lay Bare Cabinet Divisions (G.)

Brexit is set to be delayed by at least three months, after parliament opted overwhelmingly to request an extension to article 50 on another day of divisive votes that exposed the split in Theresa May’s fractured cabinet. The prime minister is now expected to bring her twice-defeated Brexit deal back to parliament on Tuesday, after she narrowly retained control of the next steps of the process. The votes, the last in a series of vital parliamentary decisions on Brexit over several days, mean that Britain’s departure from the EU should not now take place before 30 June and gave the prime minister a window to resuscitate her plan.

But May’s cabinet splintered yet again and eight cabinet ministers, including the Brexit secretary, Steve Barclay, and leader of the house, Andrea Leadsom, voted against the government’s motion extending article 50, preferring to keep the threat of no deal in place. In total, more than half of Tory MPs voted against the motion. Barclay wound up the debate for the government, saying: “It is time for this house to act in the national interest, it’s time to put forward an extension that is realistic” – before trooping through the no lobby to reject that argument. Government sources insisted he was not intending to resign, despite his unprecedented action.

The shadow Brexit secretary, Keir Starmer, said: “This evening the Brexit secretary voted against his government’s own motion on Brexit, which earlier in the day he had defended in the House of Commons. That’s the equivalent of the chancellor voting against his own budget. This is a government that has completely lost control.” Labour’s divisions over Brexit were also clearly on display, however. The party whipped its MPs to abstain on an amendment calling for a second referendum – but 24 Labour MPs defied the whips to vote for it; and 17 rebelled to vote against, including several frontbenchers.

[..] If the deal does not pass on Tuesday, May would be likely to set out her request for a longer extension before the European council summit on Thursday. Downing Street said the blame for delay lay with parliament and was against the prime minister’s will. “The prime minister absolutely wanted and strived for the UK to be leaving the EU on 29 March. Everything she has done since entered office was intended to deliver that,” the spokesman said. “Now we have to confront the difficult decision that decisions taken by parliament have left us in.”

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So, 21 months. I said 1-2 years earlier. And $40-50 billion. Because: “When Theresa May comes asking us for an extension, our response will be: ‘For what? To what end?”

Tusk Pushes EU27 Leaders To Be Open To Long Brexit Delay (G.)

Donald Tusk is pushing the European Union’s leaders to consider a long Brexit delay to allow the UK to rethink its goals in the negotiations as the Commons voted in favour of seeking an extension of article 50. In an apparent shift in the EU’s red lines, the European council president suggested even before MPs had voted that a lengthy extension beyond 29 March could be granted simply to give Westminster time to recalibrate. Officials have until now insisted that only calling a general election or second referendum could justify delaying Brexit beyond more than a few months. “During my consultations ahead of [the EU leaders’ summit next week], I will appeal to the EU27 to be open to a long extension if the UK finds it necessary to rethink its Brexit strategy and build consensus around it,” Tusk tweeted.

However, a European commission spokesman expressed the concerns in Brussels over the impact of a long extension after MPs voted 413 to 202 to push back Brexit to at least 30 June. “A request for an extension of article 50 requires the unanimous agreement of all 27 member states,” the spokesman said. “It will be for the European councilto consider such a request, giving priority to the need to ensure the functioning of the EU institutions and taking into account the reasons for and duration of a possible extension.” Reacting to the vote, the Dutch prime minister, Mark Rutte, made clear his frustration. “What’s the point of whining on for months on end while we have been going around in circles for two years?” he said. “When Theresa May comes asking us for an extension, our response will be: ‘For what? To what end?”

However, delays of between a few weeks to as long as 21 months have been mooted in recent weeks, with the Irish deputy prime minister, Simon Coveney, being the latest on Thursday to suggest that a lengthy delay could be helpful despite the complications. “If you have a long extension of article 50, that opens up the debate in a much broader way to the overall approach that the United Kingdom takes to Brexit. That may facilitate a fundamental rethink, it may not, we just don’t know,” Coveney said. “If you have a long extension of, say 21 months to the end of 2020 – whatever the period would be – then Britain has a legal entitlement to have representation in the European parliament.”

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And still she’s there. Bad advisors.

8 Top Ministers Refuse To Back Theresa May’s Article 50 Extension (Ind.)

The unity of Theresa May’s cabinet has publicly crumbled after eight of her most senior ministers refused to back her plan to delay Brexit by three months. Those who failed to support it included the prime minister’s Brexit secretary Stephen Barclay, who was joined by 187 other Conservative MPs and frontbenchers in voting against her approach. None of the ministers opposing Ms May’s ultimately successful move to delay Brexit will be sacked, because she allowed a “free vote” on the issue in the face of a mass rebellion. It followed a rowdy cabinet meeting in the morning where tempers frayed over a separate rebellion the night before in which remainer cabinet ministers refused to vote with the government on a motion ruling out a no-deal Brexit.

As a result of Thursday night’s votes, however, the path is cleared for Ms May to put her twice-rejected Brexit deal to a third vote of MPs, and if it is passed she will request a Brexit delay until 30 June to push through necessary legislation. Discussions between Conservative ministers and the party’s Northern Irish DUP allies in government continued as Ms May hunts for a majority for her agreement. After losing on previous occasions in the Commons, the prime minister was forced to let MPs vote on extending Article 50 on Thursday. The motion put in front of the house said she would go to the European Council at the end of next week and ask for a short delay to the end of June if MPs backed her deal, and a longer one if they did not.

But with Conservative ranks full of MPs who baulk at the idea of delaying the UK’s departure at all, and the prospect of having to sack dozens of minsters, she allowed a free vote. As well as Mr Barclay, top ministers who voted against her approach included defence secretary Gavin Williamson, trade secretary Liam Fox, commons leader Andrea Leadsom, Treasury secretary Liz Truss, transport secretary Chris Grayling and development secretary Penny Mordaunt. Welsh secretary Alun Cairns abstained. A further 27 junior ministers and 11 whips also voted against the approach Ms May is taking, including the outspoken Conservative deputy chairman James Cleverly and other Brexit ministers Kwasi Kwarteng and Chris Heaton-Harris. Three other whips, including chief Julian Smith, declined to vote.

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It’s been broken for a long time. Their venue belongs in the middle ages, and so does their behavior. It’s become a freak show.

Brexit Has Finally Broken The British Political System (Ind.)

The British political system has existed, in a relatively similar form, for hundreds of years. Periodically, an issue will arise which causes a shock to the system, reform follows and then life returns to normal. Even the parliamentary buildings are a throwback to an earlier era, failing to have even enough seats for all 650 MPs now elected to the chamber. It is a parliamentary system which prides itself on its ability to be bomb-proof, immune to the temporary ebb and flows of popularism, providing strong and stable majority governments for generations. No longer. The old certainties feel far less permanent in the wake of Brexit.

The spectacle of the House of Commons has become a regular fixture on our television sets, with the commons becoming the scene of passionate speeches and rousing argument. As the physical structure of the Houses of Parliament are repaired and saved from the ravages of old age, how can the political system it houses be saved? Has Brexit exposed cracks in the system, which signal its demise? In the immediate future, the House of Commons is focused on finding some consensus on what to do next. Undoubtedly, Theresa May will try and use this as an opportunity to give her Withdrawal Bill a third chance, and with the threat of no Brexit at all becoming more of a realistic possibility, she might even drag the legislation across the line.

Whether she will get that chance largely lies with the Commons speaker, John Bercow; he may refuse to allow identical legislation to be reintroduced again, depending on his interpretation of the rules. While numerous amendments have been introduced by members on both sides of the House, covering all options from a no deal to a second referendum, it is still so hard to see which of these solutions, if any, will gather majority support.

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My old stomping grounds of Montréal finally gets its due too.

The Most Splendid Housing Bubbles in Canada Deflate (WS)

Canadian housing markets are in a category of their own. No housing market in the US – no matter how crazy Housing Bubble 1 was, which began to implode in 2006, or how crazy Housing Bubble 2 is or was – can hold a candle to the most splendid housing bubbles in Canada. Instead of a Financial Crisis and a mortgage crisis and Housing Bust 1, the bubbliest Canadian markets only had a little-bitty dip, and within months were back on track to what would be an 18-year housing boom that is now coming undone.

I converted the index data of price changes into “percent change from January 2002.” So this tracks the same data, but is denominated in “%-change,” and the chart looks the same. I did this for Vancouver and the San Francisco Bay Area, which allows me to put both indices on the same %-change scale on the same chart. Vancouver house prices soared 316% since January 2002 through the peak (July 2018); San Francisco Bay Area house prices soared 121% through the peak (November 2018). And what we get is a chart that shows how the majestically splendid housing bubble in Vancouver (black) totally crushes, annihilates, and ridicules the crazy insane mind-blowing house price increases in San Francisco (red):

Staying on the same scale to show how housing markets in Canada vary, with less bubbly markets showing more white space, we move on to Toronto. House prices fell 0.2% in February and are down 4.0% from the peak in July 2017. Mild as it seems, it was the steepest 19-month decline since May 2009. From January 2002 through the peak in August 2017, the index skyrocketed 218%. That’s huge. It means house prices more than tripled. But it’s not even in the same ballpark as Vancouver, where house prices more than quadrupled. So in the chart below, there is a little more white space above the index. Note the utterly nutty spike from January 2016 through July 2018, peaking with a 40% year-over-year gain. I converted this Toronto index to “percent-change since January 2002” and compared it to the crazy insane mind-blowing housing bubble in the San Francisco Bay Area. And Toronto just blows away the Bay Area for another holy-cow moment:

In Montreal, home prices ticked up to a new record in February, the only city in the 11-city index to see a month-to-month gain and a new record. The index is now up 158% from January 2002, and even this gain, which seems rather lousy compared to Vancouver’s 316% gain, beats San Francisco’s gain (121%) by a big margin. But the white space is beginning to get ample:

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Sensitive info excluded. So Mueller can run with his empty Guccifer 2.0 and Julian Assange accusations. Who’s going to call him on that crap? No-one.

House Votes 420-0 For Mueller Report To Be Made Public (AP)

The House has unanimously voted for a resolution calling for any final report in the special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation to be made public. The symbolic action designed to pressure the attorney general, William Barr, to release as much information as possible when the inquiry ends. The Democratic-backed resolution, which passed 420-0, comes as Mueller appears to be nearing an end to his investigation. Lawmakers in both parties have maintained there will have to be some sort of public discussion when the report is done – and privately hope that a report shows conclusions that are favorable to their own side.

The resolution is unlikely to be passed in the Senate, where the Democratic Leader, Chuck Schumer, tried to bring it up hours after House passage. He was rebuffed when the Senate judiciary committee chairman, Lindsey Graham, objected. But the House vote shows that lawmakers from both parties are eager to view Mueller’s findings after almost two years of speculation about what they might reveal. Though Mueller’s office has said nothing publicly about the timing of a report, several prosecutors detailed to Mueller’s team have left in recent months, suggesting that the investigation is winding down. The nonbinding House resolution calls for the public release of any report Mueller provides to Barr, with an exception for classified material.

The resolution also calls for the full report to be released to Congress. “This resolution is critical because of the many questions and criticisms of the investigation raised by the president and his administration,” said the House judiciary committee chairman, Jerrold Nadler. Donald Trump has repeatedly called the inquiry a “hoax” and a “witch-hunt”. [..] The top Republican on the House judiciary panel, Georgia congressman Doug Collins, voted for the resolution but said it was unnecessary. Collins also had a warning for Democrats: “What happens when it comes back and none of this is true, the president did not do anything wrong? Then the meltdown will occur.”

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Sara’s article, which concerns Loretta Lynch’s -still not public- testimony confirms a few things: 1) FBI et al thought and hoped Trump was bound to lose to Hillary, and 2) they never supplied a defensive briefing to Trump, though it is a core task of the FBI to warn candidates of potential foreign involvement.

FBI, DOJ Bias and Intent Prevented Trump Defensive Briefing (Sara Carter)

President Donald Trump’s campaign was never given a defensive briefing by the FBI, despite mounting concerns that Russians were allegedly trying to penetrate the campaign during the 2016 presidential election. In testimony provided by former Attorney General Loretta Lynch, along with others, it is the key finding that won’t bode well for the FBI and DOJ. [..] The defensive briefing, after all, is a procedure that is often given to presidential candidates, elected officials and even U.S. businesses that have either been unwittingly approached by foreign actors attempting to gain trust and befriend those in position of influence.

The briefing allows the government to protect the candidates, specifically if there is substantial information or knowledge to suggest that someone has targeted an unwitting American for information. If the FBI or intelligence agencies suspect foreign adversaries may be trying to penetrate a presidential campaign, as those FBI and DOJ sources suggested in testimony to lawmakers, it would then be required to warn those affected. [..] In the case of Trump, the FBI gave only a general counterintelligence briefing but did not provide information to the campaign that the FBI believed there were specific counterintelligence threats. For example, the FBI’s concern over campaign advisors George Papadopolous, Carter Page and then concerns over former national security advisor Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn.

“It is an essential task of the FBI and the intelligence community to give a defensive briefing to a presidential candidate when a foreign adversary is attempting to penetrate or make contact with someone in the campaign,” said a former senior intelligence official. “If the FBI and DOJ were so concerned about Carter Page and (George) Papadopolous why didn’t they brief Trump when he became a candidate? The fact that they didn’t is very revealing. If they gave defensive briefing to the Clinton campaign then I think we have the answer.”

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They keep on making them though, at a rate of 52 a month. The grounding could last 3-4-5 months. Where’s the parking space?

Boeing To Pause 737 Max Deliveries After Groundings, Crashes (MW)

Boeing said late Thursday it has paused deliveries of the 737 Max planes. The aircraft has been grounded worldwide after one of its models was in two deadly crashes in less than five months. Boeing said it will continue to make the 737 Max planes and the delivery halt does not impact its production rate of 52 aircraft a month. Shares of Boeing fell less than 0.1% in the extended session after ending the regular trading day down 1%. U.S. aviation authorities were the last to ground the plane on Wednesday. Wall Street had feared a delivery halt for the commercial jets, although some analysts had said that was likely factored in the share price. Boeing stock has lost 11% this week, and is up 13% in the past 12 months, compared with gains around 2% for the S&P 500 index and 4% for the Dow Jones Industrial Average. Boeing is a Dow component.

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That appears to be just what we need: “..rocks sucking massive volumes of CO2 from the atmosphere.”

Ice Ages Triggered By Massive Collisions At Earth’s Equator (Ind.)

Enormous seismic events that took place at the equator are responsible for the plummeting global temperatures that have marked each of Earth’s ice ages, according to a new study. As the plates of the planet’s crust smashed into each other, they left vast areas of oceanic rock exposed. Scientists think the high temperatures of the tropics triggered a chemical reaction that led to these rocks sucking massive volumes of CO2 from the atmosphere. Just as the rising CO2 from human industry is causing global temperatures to rise, removing it has had the opposite effect, bringing temperatures down and triggering ice ages.

Over the course of Earth’s history, the planet has experienced three enormous ice ages – in which glaciers and frozen regions extend far beyond the polar caps – each lasting several million years. The most recent ice age began 35 million years ago and is still technically on-going, marked by the spread of ice sheets across Greenland and Antarctica. At the point where two plates collide, they create mountain ranges containing “sutures” – clear fault lines containing newly exposed rock. Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology realised the emergence of sutures over the course of millennia coincided with the onset of each major ice age.

They also found that while some sutures, such as the one located in the Himalayas, had over time moved away from the equator, each one had its origins in the tropics. “We found that every time there was a peak in the suture zone in the tropics, there was a glaciation event,” said Dr Oliver Jagoutz, a geologist at MIT who led the study. “So every time you get, say, 10,000km of sutures in the tropics, you get an ice age.” While the reaction of substances like calcium and magnesium in the rocks with CO2 was the starting point for global cooling, it has also had a role in ending each ice age.

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The Midwest may not seem the ideal breeding ground for a Green New Deal, but perhaps looks deceive.

Rural America Is Ready For Some Sort Of A New Deal, Preferably Green (G.)

Rural America needs a new deal, or at least a better deal, and if it’s green all the better. Farm loan delinquencies are rising to levels not seen since the Farm Debt Crisis of the 1980s, from which the rural midwest never really recovered. Nearly a third of Iowa farmers growing corn and soybeans caught up in a trade war with China are said to be under extreme stress, according to Iowa State University. They’re the younger ones. Rural communities are draining young people. Two-thirds of Iowa’s 99 counties are losing population and prospects as manufacturing jobs leach out of the midwest. The Information Age jobs are not in those county seat towns of 5,000 people — they’re in Minneapolis or Des Moines.

Meanwhile, we’re losing our precious topsoil and polluting our rivers – killing the Gulf of Mexico in the process – as we chase ever-higher corn yields in a vain bid to cut a profit on thin commodity markets. Iowa is losing soil four to five times faster than it can be regrown – already yields and crop quality are declining because of it, which ultimately leads to higher food prices with less nutrition. The midwest would welcome a new deal, and this is where it must start. The Great Plains from Iowa down through Kansas and Texas lead the world in wind energy production. Yet the wind energy production tax credit is set to wane and expire over the next five years.

Those wind turbine royalties are increasingly important in western Kansas where you can barely raise a corn crop even with irrigation because of soil degradation and warmer nights wrought by climate change. Wind energy technicians who keep the blades whirring are paid good union wages and are welcome residents in tiny Iowa villages. They could ply their trade in West Virginia as well. Yet they are fought at every turn. Astroturf groups spring up to clamor against new wind farm developments, citing phony “science” of human and fowl health threats, and funded by unknown interests. They have been able to slow or block development of new production and transmission capacity while new oil pipelines are laid near sacred Native ground and under the Missouri river without a problem.

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Mar 112019
 
 March 11, 2019  Posted by at 10:06 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Jean Metzinger Soldier playing chess 1915

 

Brexit Talks ‘Deadlocked’, Says Downing Street (G.)
Brexit Fallout On UK Finance Intensifies (R.)
How Central Bankers Blew Up The Global Economy (ABC.au)
What Fed Chair Powell Said On 60 Minutes (ZH)
China’s GDP Growth Could Be Half Of Reported Number – Pettis (SCMP)
Brookings Says China Overstated Size Of Its Economy By 12% (ZH)
Deutsche Bank Begins Talks Over Merger With Rival Commerzbank (G.)
Leaked Documents Reveal DOJ Protected Steele After FBI Shunning (KK)
How US Government and Media Spread Pro-War Propaganda (Greenwald)
US “Gets Its Ass Handed To It” In World War III Simulations (ZH)
Why The Shale Boom Left California Behind (Rapier)
Elderly Americans Are Dying Without Getting To Read Mueller’s Report (NW)

 

 

Crunch time starts tomorrow. The backstop is the big issue. EU cannot ‘budge’, because it would mean leaving Ireland out in the cold. It’s called the Irish backstop for a reason.

Brexit Talks ‘Deadlocked’, Says Downing Street (G.)

Downing Street has described the Brexit talks in Brussels as “deadlocked” after negotiations over the weekend failed to find a breakthrough on the Irish backstop. Theresa May and Jean-Claude Juncker, the European commission president, spoke on the telephone on Sunday evening, but plans for the prime minister to visit the Belgian capital to sign off on any compromise are on hold. The EU refuses to budge on the British proposal for what it believes is an attempt to build a unilateral exit mechanism into the Irish backstop, the arrangement that would keep the UK in a customs union to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland.

The attorney general, Geoffrey Cox, is unlikely without such a concession to revise his legal opinion, given before the last vote on May’s deal, that the backstop could be in force “indefinitely”. The prime minister pledged in parliament to put her deal to the Commons on Tuesday but she is being urged by senior Conservative MPs to pull the vote if she fails to secure significant concessions from Brussels. Leading Tories have warned Downing Street it could face a second huge defeat similar to the historic 230-vote loss in January if the government goes ahead. They have advised May instead to replace the vote with a motion setting out the sort of Brexit deal that would be acceptable to Tory MPs, in the hope that this would trigger concessions from the EU.

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All they have left is finance. Austerity ate the rest.

Brexit Fallout On UK Finance Intensifies (R.)

More than 275 financial firms are moving a combined $1.2 trillion in assets and funds and thousands of staff from Britain to the European Union in readiness for Brexit at a cost of up to $4 billion, a report from a think tank said on Monday. UK lawmakers are due to vote on Tuesday on an EU divorce settlement. But with less than three weeks to go before Brexit day on March 29, it is still unclear whether the deal will be approved, whether departure from the EU will be delayed, or whether it will happen without agreement. The report by the New Financial think tank, one of the most detailed yet on the impact of Brexit on financial services, said Dublin alone accounted for 100 relocations, ahead of Luxembourg with 60, Paris 41, Frankfurt 40, and Amsterdam 32.

The independent think tank said half of the affected asset management firms, such as Goldman Sachs Investment Management, Morgan Stanley Investment Management and Vanguard, had chosen Dublin, with Luxembourg the next port of call, attracting firms like Schroders, JP Morgan Wealth Management and Aviva Investors. Nearly 90 percent of all firms moving to Frankfurt are banks, while two-thirds of those going to Amsterdam are trading platforms or brokers. Paris is carving out a niche for markets and trading operations of banks and attracting a broad spread of firms.

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This still needs to be explained, apparently.

How Central Bankers Blew Up The Global Economy (ABC.au)

We humans are a social lot. We just love being part of a pack, a member of a team. We crave acceptance, to the point where isolation or banishment ranks among the worst forms of punishment. Even when it comes to the dodgy art of forecasting, everyone seems to cluster around a central position, which kind of defeats the point of forecasting. And so, in July two years ago, when the groundswell of opinion began to shift — that the Reserve Bank would be raising interest rates — arguing otherwise was a fairly lonely position. As time went on, almost everyone shifted position as we dug in here, here and here.

To be fair, most of the highly paid, well-heeled professional market economists were being egged on by the authorities, and particularly the Reserve Bank, which was spinning the line that the next rate move was up. In the past fortnight, however, the pack suddenly has turned on its tail as fears about the global economy and a sudden slowdown in our own growth forced a rethink. The switch to a rate cut has turned into a stampede. Put aside all the complex formula. Forget the high-level macro-economic analysis. There’s a very simple reason the Reserve Bank couldn’t and can’t raise interest rates. There’s too much debt. Australian households are among the world’s most indebted when compared with their income.

And we’ve spent most of it on real estate. What these two graphs show is how the Reserve Bank, effectively, snookered itself. Back in 2012, when debt and housing prices already were elevated, it fired up the east coast housing market, and construction, to take up the employment slack as the mining boom unwound. But it created a monster. As housing went on a tear, the short-term sugar hit turned toxic. Employment took off. But housing became unaffordable to almost everyone under 35. And our household debt levels reached for the stars. The end result? It couldn’t cut rates if it needed. That would add heat to a dangerously inflated housing bubble. And it could never raise rates, because that would kill household spending.

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3 Stooges.

Nomi Prins: “Number of times the word “bubble” appeared in the 60 Minutes interview with Fed. Chair Jerome Powell. Zero.”

A central bank can have benefits, but not when it only serves the rich. If we don’t get rid of Fed and ECB, there’ll be very steep prices to pay.

Note: there’s a video at the link, but it started itself so I threw it out.

What Fed Chair Powell Said On 60 Minutes (ZH)

A decade after Ben Bernanke appeared on “60 Minutes”, vowing that the Fed could easily crush inflation, as it could “raise interest rates in 15 minutes”, of course with the occasional “pause” along the way should the S&P dip by 20% or so, current Fed Chairman Jerome Powell will follow in his footsteps on Sunday night, when surrounded by former Fed Chairs Bernanke and Yellen, he will try to reach beyond the Fed’s traditional audience of markets, journalists and lawmakers to counter the attacks from President Trump, even after the Fed’s paused on raising interest rates, said Sarah Binder, a professor of political science at George Washington University, quoted by MarketWatch.

“He wants to counter the president’s message that policy is all wrong,” Binder said. Binder said she was struck by the still photo of the “60 Minutes” interview that shows Powell alongside his two predecessors Janet Yellen and Ben Bernanke. “This puts a human face on the central bank. It says, ‘we’re the Fed and we’re here to help,’” Binder said. Bernanke also faced criticism when he went on “60 Minutes” in March 2009. The Fed was facing concerted attacks by lawmakers and populist “End the Fed” groups, who considering the record wealth divide in the US created by the central bank, were spot on.

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I’m going with Xiang Songzuo: “..China’s GDP growth for 2018 could be 1.67 per cent or even negative..”

China’s GDP Growth Could Be Half Of Reported Number – Pettis (SCMP)

If China’s bad debts were written down, its economic growth rate would be half the recorded number, a US economist at a prominent Chinese university has warned. In a speech in Shanghai this week, Michael Pettis, professor of finance at Peking University, warned that China’s debt is closely linked to the government’s perceived overstatement of its GDP. The government is accused of perpetuating the existence of “zombie companies”, by granting loss-making companies loans. Banks in turn treat these companies as creditworthy, whereas in reality they should be written off as bad debt, Pettis said. “If you believe there is bad debt that has not been sufficiently written down, you must believe that China’s GDP is overstated, relative to what it would be in any other country. That must be true,” Pettis said.

“If we are able to calculate GDP correctly, it would probably be half of the recorded number.” Pettis is not alone seeing troubles with China’s official growth number. In December, Xiang Songzuo, an outspoken professor from the Renmin University of China, who previously served as chief economist for Agricultural Bank of China, cited unidentified internal reports as saying that said China’s GDP growth for 2018 could be 1.67 per cent or even negative, a far cry from the official figures. Furthermore, a group of four economists published a paper this week arguing that China might have overstated its annual growth rate by 2 percentage points on average from 2008 to 2016. China’s official statistics agency said the country’s economic growth rate was 6.6 per cent in 2018.

The Chinese government said it would try to achieve an economic growth rate between 6.0 to 6.5 per cent in 2019, a moderate slowdown from previous years, but nevertheless a much faster rate compared with other major economies. Pettis is a renowned expert on China’s economy. For decades, he has been commenting on financial affairs in China and was among the early observers of the imbalances in the Chinese economy. He said in his speech on Wednesday that China’s growth will significantly decelerate as the country’s debt level rises.

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Brookings is many years late.

Brookings Says China Overstated Size Of Its Economy By 12% (ZH)

Since China managed to weather the fallout from the financial crisis without registering much of a slowdown in its “official” GDP figures, playing “guess the real growth rate” has become one of the most popular parlor games among the professional economist set. Whereas the stakes are much higher for academics on the mainland (one of whom was censored and threatened by government thugs after speculating that GDP growth on the mainland might be closer to 2%), researchers at American think tanks have freely offered estimates ranging from 2% to 4% (which, admittedly, would still put China well ahead of the US).

But as investors and economists once again cast a wary eye toward China as signs of flagging growth are once again threatening to sink the whole world into a recession, a team of researchers from the Brookings Institute has published a carefully researched paper detailing the exact mechanism by which authorities in Beijing inflate the country’s GDP figures, while estimating that China’s economy is roughly 12% smaller than the official figures would suggest. Brookings published the paper on Thursday, just two days after Party leaders at the annual National Party Congress lowered their economic growth forecast to between 6% and 6.5% of GDP.

Though the paper focused on the period between 2008 and 2016, it’s the latest evidence that China’s economic slowdown has been more severe than believed, and that the growth rate from last year – China’s worst since the early 1990s – might, in reality, be just under 6% (compared with 6.6%). According to Brookings, much of the manipulation in Chinese official government statistics takes place at the local level. In what the FT described as “a legacy of Maoist state planning”, authorities in Beijing hand down growth targets to local officials, who use it to goalseek the official statistics they hand back. “China’s national accounts are based on data collected by local governments. However, since local governments are rewarded for meeting growth and investment targets, they have an incentive to skew local statistics. China’s National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) adjusts the data provided by local governments to calculate GDP at the national level,” the study’s authors said.

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Two staggering drunks lean on each other so they can make it to the bar and continue drinking.

Deutsche Bank Begins Talks Over Merger With Rival Commerzbank (G.)

Deutsche Bank has begun tentative merger talks with rival Commerzbank, which would create Europe’s second biggest bank behind HSBC and fend off unwanted potential bidders such as French giant BNP Paribas. Reports in Germany’s Welt am Sonntag suggest that the banks have come under political pressure to consider a merger and avert a foreign takeover of Commerzbank, much the smaller partner in any deal. Deutsche is regarded as a bank of global importance, but has been plagued by three years of losses, boardroom battles, money laundering issues and its role as the biggest lender to the Trump business empire.

Despite Germany’s industrial dominance in Europe, it has only one bank in the continent’s top 20, and Berlin is understood to be keen to create a larger national champion. The combination of the two banks mean that Deutsche, currently fifth biggest, and Commerzbank, currently 23rd, will become Europe’s second biggest bank and only marginally behind HSBC. Deutsche Bank’s chief executive Christian Sewing was seen to be the main opponent of a merger, but investor pressure – Deutsche’ shares are trading at around €7.68 compared with €32 five years ago – is understood to have forced his hand. The talks are believed to be at a very early stage – “unofficial contacts in a very small group” according to Welt am Sonntag – but are likely to be welcomed by major shareholders.

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This is getting too stupid. But who’s going to investigate the DOJ and FBI?

Leaked Documents Reveal DOJ Protected Steele After FBI Shunning (KK)

Steele was cut off by the FBI for revealing his relationship with the Bureau to the media – but Ohr continued to pass information from Steele to his colleagues, regularly spoke to him via email and phone, and met up with him face-to-face on several occasions. Information watchdog Judicial Watch has released 339-pages of US Department of Justice records, revealing former Associate Deputy Attorney General Bruce Ohr remained in regular contact with ex-MI6 operative Christopher Steele after Steele’s status as a paid confidential informant was terminated by the FBI in November 2016.

“These smoking gun documents show Christopher Steele, a Hillary Clinton operative and anti-Trump foreign national, secretly worked hand-in-glove with the Justice Department on its illicit targeting of President Trump. These documents leave no doubt that for more than a year after the FBI fired Christopher Steele for leaking, and for some 10 months after Donald Trump was sworn in as president, Bruce Ohr continued to act as a go-between for Steele with the FBI and Justice Department. The anti-Trump Russia investigation, now run by Robert Mueller, has been thoroughly compromised by this insider corruption,” said Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton.

Whether an accurate appraisal or not, it’s clear from the assorted communications Ohr was determined to ensure Steele retained access to the Bureau, and this contact remained hidden from public view – for instance, when acting Attorney General Sally Yates was fired by Trump January 2017, Steele feared Ohr would be fired too, and texted him to express his “sympathy and support”. “If you end up out, I really need another contact point/number who is briefed. We can’t allow our guy to be forced to go back home. It would be disastrous all round, though his position right now looks stable. A million thanks,” Steele wrote. In response, Ohr assured the Orbis chief he could “certainly” give him an FBI contact “if it becomes necessary”.

On 6 March that year, Senator Chuck Grassley wrote to then-FBI Director James Comey, seeking clarity on the nature of Steele’s relationship with the FBI. The next day, Steele texted Ohr to say he was “very concerned” by the letter, and its “possible implications for our operations and sources…We need some reassurance…Really fundamental issues at stake here”. Days later, with Comey scheduled to testify before Congress, Steele told Ohr he was “a bit apprehensive” and hoped “important firewalls will hold”. On 24 March, Ohr and Steele discussed their “response” to the testimony, as he understood “an approach from the Senate Intelligence Committee” to Orbis was imminent.

On 26 October, Steele said he’s “very concerned” about documents the FBI intended to turn over to Congress about his work and “relationship with them”. “Can we have a word tomorrow please? Just seen a story in the media about the Bureau handing over docs to Congress…Peoples live may be engangered [sic],” he despaired.

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Same as it ever was.

How US Government and Media Spread Pro-War Propaganda (Greenwald)

[..] on February 23, when the narrative shifted radically in favor of those U.S. officials who want regime change operations in Venezuela. That’s because images were broadcast all over the world of trucks carrying humanitarian aid burning in Colombia on the Venezuela border. U.S. officials who have been agitating for a regime change war in Venezuela – Marco Rubio, John Bolton, Mike Pompeo, the head of USAid Mark Green – used Twitter to spread classic Fake News: they vehemently stated that the trucks were set on fire, on purpose, by President Nicolas Maduro’s forces. [..] on Saturday night, the New York Times published a detailed video and accompanying article proving that this entire story was a lie.

The humanitarian trucks were not set on fire by Maduro’s forces. They were set on fire by anti-Maduro protesters who threw a molotov cocktail that hit one of the trucks. And the NYT’s video traces how the lie spread: from U.S. officials who baselessly announced that Maduro burned them to media outlets that mindlessly repeated the lie. [..] While the NYT’s article and video are perfectly good and necessary journalism, the credit they are implicitly claiming for themselves for exposing this lie is totally undeserved. That’s because independent journalists – the kind who question rather than mindlessly repeat government claims and are therefore mocked and marginalized and kept off mainstream television – used exactly this same evidence on the day of the incident to debunk the lies being told by Rubio, Pompeo, Bolton and CNN.

On February 24, the day the lie spread, Max Blumenthal wrote from Venezuela, on the independent reporting Grayzone site, that “the claim was absurd on its face,” noting that he “personally witnessed tear gas canisters hit every kind of vehicle imaginable in the occupied Palestinian West Bank, and I have never seen a fire like the one that erupted on the Santander bridge.” He compiled substantial evidence strongly suggesting that the trucks were set ablaze by anti-Maduro protesters, including Bloomberg video showing them using Molotov cocktails, to express serious doubts about the mainstream narrative. On Twitter, in response to Marco Rubio’s lie, he wrote: “I did not see any Venezuelan government forces set fire to US aid trucks on the Colombian side of the border. And neither did you. Actually, the evidence so far is pointing in the other direction.”

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Is this going to have the neocons clamor for war today, before everyone understands it?

US “Gets Its Ass Handed To It” In World War III Simulations (ZH)

In simulated World War III scenarios, the U.S. continues to lose against Russia and China, two top war planners warned last week. “In our games, when we fight Russia and China, blue gets its ass handed to it” RAND analyst David Ochmanek said Thursday. RAND’s wargames show how US Armed Forces – colored blue on wargame maps – experience the most substantial losses in one scenario after another and still can’t thwart Russia or China – which predictably is red – from accomplishing their objectives: annihilating Western forces. “We lose a lot of people. We lose a lot of equipment. We usually fail to achieve our objective of preventing aggression by the adversary,” he warned.

In the next military conflict, which some believe may come as soon as the mid-2020s, all five battlefield domains: land, sea, air, space, and cyberspace, will be heavily contested, suggesting the U.S. could have a difficult time in achieving superiority as it has in prior conflicts. The simulated war games showed, the “red” aggressor force often destroys U.S. F-35 Lightning II stealth fighters on the runway, sends several Naval fleets to the depths, destroys US military bases, and through electronic warfare, takes control of critical military communication systems. In short, a gruesome, if simulated, annihilation of some of the most modern of US forces. “In every case I know of,” said Robert Work, a former deputy secretary of defense with years of wargaming experience, “the F-35 rules the sky when it’s in the sky, but it gets killed on the ground in large numbers.”

So, as Russia and China develop fifth-generation fighters and hypersonic missiles, “things that rely on sophisticated base infrastructures like runways and fuel tanks are going to have a hard time,” Ochmanek said. “Things that sail on the surface of the sea are going to have a hard time.” “That’s why the 2020 budget coming out next week retires the carrier USS Truman decades early and cuts two amphibious landing ships, as we’ve reported. It’s also why the Marine Corps is buying the jump-jet version of the F-35, which can take off and land from tiny, ad hoc airstrips, but how well they can maintain a high-tech aircraft in low-tech surroundings is an open question,” said Breaking Defense.

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Love Robert, but talking about shale is interesting only when you include industry debt.

Why The Shale Boom Left California Behind (Rapier)

Many people are unaware about California’s importance in the U.S. oil industry. In fact, 100 years ago California was the top oil producer in the U.S., responsible at one point for nearly 40% of U.S. oil production. California oil production rose throughout most of the 20th century, briefly eclipsing one million barrels per day in the early 1980s. Oil production began to decline there after peaking in 1985. The same pattern took place in many other states, and in fact was the case for the entire U.S., where oil production peaked in 1970, and then declined over the next 35 years. But the shale boom changed the trajectory of U.S. oil production.

Oil production that had fallen for decades reversed direction and began to surge about a decade ago. Almost every state with shale oil resources saw a similar surge in production. Since 2010, U.S. oil production has increased by 131%, with huge gains in oil production in the following states (among others): • North Dakota – up 634% • Colorado – up 508% • New Mexico – up 377% •Texas – up 330% • Oklahoma – up 238%. In fact, only three major oil-producing states have seen a decline in oil production since 2010: California, Louisiana, and Alaska. One of the graphics I created for my presentation shows the stark contrast between oil production in Texas and California as the shale boom unfolded.

During the 1980s and 1990s, oil production in Texas was declining faster than it was in California. Had that trajectory been maintained, Texas oil production may have fallen below California’s in about 2010. Instead, the shale boom has added nearly four million BPD of oil production in Texas. Millions of barrels were added in other states as well, and California began to slide down the ranks of leading oil producers. Just a few years ago California was still in 2nd place, but now it has slipped to 6th, behind Texas, North Dakota, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Alaska.

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“.. And They’re Hot Happy About It”. Not the Onion, but Newsweek.

Elderly Americans Are Dying Without Getting To Read Mueller’s Report (NW)

As special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation is reportedly coming to an end, elderly and sick Americans are trying to hold on to their lives so they can read the highly-anticipated report that has been nearly two years in the making. World War II veteran Mitchell Tendler—a man who survived numerous historic milestones, including the Korean War, Vietnam, Watergate and President BIll Clinton’s impeachment—fell sick on Dec. 29, at 93 years old, reported NPR. “I got a call at 11 o’clock. My mom said, ‘Well, Dad’s not feeling well—he really can’t stand,'” Tendler’s son, Walter, recalled. “Within a couple of hours they called 911 and got him into the ER because it wasn’t getting any better.”

Tendler survived two implantable defibrillators throughout his life. But while on his third, he started to fade. After he was provided painkillers by doctors, Tendler voiced his final thoughts. “It just was quiet for a little while,” Walter Tendler told the news outlet, “and then he just sits up in bed halfway and looks at me and he goes, ‘S***, I’m not going to see the Mueller report, am I?’ And that was really the last coherent thing that he said.” Richard Armstrong, a 94-year-old currently in hospice care in New Jersey, related to Tendler’s sentiments. “I know exactly how he feels. I feel the same way. I’ve been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer,” Armstrong told NPR.

“I was hoping to live to see the outcome of what I think it should be—justice. I’ll be surprised and disappointed if it isn’t.” After seeing Tendler’s words—shared on Twitter by Benjamin Wittes, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution—Kristina Makansi, who lives in Arizona, thought about her mother who passed away at the age of 94 in January. “When I saw that tweet about the Mueller report and the old man on his deathbed, I thought, Oh my gosh, that’s the kind of thing that my mother would say,” she said. “I think she really wanted to see that justice was done… and that the investigation was allowed to proceed without any shenanigans and obstruction.”

Read more …

Feb 222019
 


Salvador Dali The ghost of Vermeer of Delft which can be used as a table 1934

 

US Housing Market In Freefall As New Buyers Can’t Afford A Home (ZH)
Canadians Continue To Plunder Equity From Their Homes (ZH)
Bursting Of Australia’s Housing Bubble Could Topple The Government (ZH)
EU Expects May to Request Three-Month Delay to Brexit (BBG)
Theresa May Warned Dozens Of Tories Could Rebel Over No-Deal Brexit (BBC)
Record Surplus Gives UK Pre-Brexit Boost (G.)
Anti-Semitism Is Cover For A Much Deeper Divide In UK Labour Party (Cook)
Macron Calls Anti-Zionism A Form Of Antisemitism (Ind.)
Philadelphia Sues Seven Big Banks For Bond Collusion (RT)
FBI Lawyer Reveals Infiltration In Trump Campaign (ET)
Judge Imposes Sweeping Gag Order On Roger Stone (MW)
Hungary Takes ‘Hundreds Of Venezuelan Refugees With Hungarian Ancestry’ (Ind.)
Julian Assange Gets A New Australian Passport (SMH)
US Cities Burn Recyclables After China Bans Imports (G.)
World Food Supply Under ‘Severe Threat’ From Loss Of Biodiversity (G.)

 

 

Meanwhile in the real world that central bankers don’t want you to see:

US Housing Market In Freefall As New Buyers Can’t Afford A Home (ZH)

[..] with consensus expecting a tiny rebounding in January following December’s sharp drop, the deterioration in the US home market continued, and January existing home unexpectedly dropped 1.2% (exp. +0.2%), to 4.94 million, missing expectations of a rebound to 5.00 million. After December’s revision higher to 5.00 million, the January SAAR of 4.94 million was the first sub-5MM print since 2015, while the parallel pending home sales series confirms even more weakness is in store. Needless to say, it is very troubling that Americans are unable to afford home purchases with the 30% mortgage at just 4.5%, and suggests that even if inflation picks up, the Fed may have no choice but to keep rates flat to avoid a housing market crash.

As usual, NAR chief economist Larry Yun was optimistic, saying that he does not expect the numbers to decline further going forward. “Existing home sales in January were weak compared to historical norms; however, they are likely to have reached a cyclical low. Moderating home prices combined with gains in household income will boost housing affordability, bringing more buyers to the market in the coming months.” One wonders what “gains in household income” he is talking about. Meanwhile, properties are failing to sell as the slowdown spreads: Properties remained on the market for an average of 49 days in January, up from 46 days in December and 42 days a year ago. Thirty-eight percent of homes sold in January were on the market for less than a month.

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“Vancouver [..] saw home sales fall about 40% in January from the same month a year earlier.”

Canadians Continue To Plunder Equity From Their Homes (ZH)

Canadians are accelerating the rate at which they borrow cash against their homes, despite the fact that the real estate market is slumping in the country. This exposes the country’s financial system to obvious vulnerabilities, according to rating company DBRS and Bloomberg. Home equity lines of credit in Canada reached a record $184.5 billion (USD) as of October 31, which equates to 11.3% of total household credit. This is the highest share since mid 2015, according to a report released last Thursday. Canadians are drawing on their home’s equity to fund everything from home renovations to car purchases. And they’re doing it so quickly that borrowing has grown faster than mortgages since 2017.

Analyst Robert Colangelo, who published the report on Thursday, commented: “The flexibility of Helocs could increase financial system vulnerabilities. In the event of a correction, borrowers could find themselves with a debt load that exceeds the value of their home, which is often referred to as negative equity.” Obviously, home equity lines of credit can decrease visibility for lenders to identify credit problems as consumers use the equity in their homes to consolidate high interest loans and unsecured debt into one lump sum at a lower rate. Out of all of the Canadian banks, Toronto Dominion bank has the largest exposure to Helocs at about 39%, followed by Royal Bank of Canada which has 18% exposure. Other large banks are averaging 11% exposure, according to the report.

And the timing for Helocs to grow couldn’t be worse. Toronto’s real estate market continues to feel pain. Sales of new homes in the city fell to the lowest in almost 2 decades in 2018 and a glut of unsold condominiums continue to pile up, according to a Building Industry and Land Development Association report released February 1. Vancouver, still feeling the deflationary effects of a foreign real estate bubble popping, saw home sales fall about 40% in January from the same month a year earlier.

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People aged 65-74: A$566,000 wealthier in 2015-16 than the same age group was 12 years earlier. People aged 25-34: A$38,000.

That could topple a lot more than only a government.

Bursting Of Australia’s Housing Bubble Could Topple The Government (ZH)

In one of the world’s most developed economies, soaring costs for housing and education are rapidly widening the wealth-distribution gap between the younger and older generations amid the backdrop of one of the longest economic expansions in the country’s history. As younger workers grapple with the notion that they may never be able to afford a home, a backlash is stirring in the political arena, as younger voters embrace progressive (some would say “socialist”) politicians. No, we’re not talking about the US. We’re talking about Australia. After six years of tumultuous Liberal rule, the Labour Party is hoping to wrest back control of the government during elections later this year.

And it sees tackling this intergenerational divide as the best way to do it. And combating the country’s increasingly unaffordable housing bubble is a key plank of its proposals. The party has pledged to curb tax breaks for property investors that helped drive up home prices (alongside an influx of foreign capital). Labor leader Bill Shorten has promised to scrap tax refunds worth A$5 billion ($3.6 billion) a year for share investors. The benefits are already being seen in the polls, where Labour is seeing a slight advantage. After 27 years of uninterrupted economic growth, Australians are struggling with the fact that the wealthy have enjoyed the bulk of the economic benefits.

While Australia has avoided recession for 27 years, the spoils have not been shared evenly as older people capture a greater share of the nation’s wealth. According to the Grattan Institute, households headed by people aged 65-74 were on average A$566,000 wealthier in 2015-16 than the same age group was 12 years earlier. That far outstrips growth in other bands and compares with just A$38,000 for the 25-34 age group. [..] While Sydney’s median house price is still more than A$900,000 [..] prices have already fallen 12% since their mid-2017 peak.

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Doesn’t she want to run down the clock?

EU Expects May to Request Three-Month Delay to Brexit (BBG)

The European Union expects U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May to be forced to request a three-month delay to Brexit, two EU officials said. Discussions between the two sides suggest May will ask for an extension to the two-year negotiating period if the British Parliament backs the Brexit deal but it isn’t signed off until an EU summit on March 21-22. That is emerging as the EU’s current plan. The EU sees this as a “technical extension” to give British Parliament time to pass necessary legislation related to its departure from the bloc. Anything longer than three months would put the U.K. under pressure to take part in European elections on May 23-26, something that both sides are keen to avoid.

May is racing against the clock to change a controversial part of her deal, known as the “backstop,” in a way that would be acceptable to both the U.K. Parliament and the EU. However, with just five weeks to go until the U.K.’s scheduled departure from the EU and talks at an impasse, ministers and lawmakers in her own party are threatening to vote against her next week to give Parliament control of the process. The prime minister has repeatedly spoken out against a delay, saying she wants to take the U.K. out of the EU as scheduled at the end of March. She’s never completely ruled it out, however. Any postponement would have to be requested by the U.K. and accepted by all the remaining 27 EU governments.

EU officials say the three-month extension would happen under their most optimistic scenario. The risk remains that the U.K. could leave the bloc March 29 without a deal. Alternatively, May could be forced to contemplate a longer delay if she can’t get backing for the agreement, according to one official.

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Chances that Parliament will vote her deal through are slim.

Theresa May Warned Dozens Of Tories Could Rebel Over No-Deal Brexit (BBC)

Dozens of normally loyal Conservative MPs could rebel against the government in a bid to prevent a “no-deal” Brexit, Downing Street has been warned. Leaders of the Brexit Delivery Group of both Leavers and Remainers say MPs may back alternatives if Mrs May’s reworked deal cannot command a Commons majority. Co-chairman Andrew Percy told the BBC more than 30 may try to block no deal. The government says “productive” talks in Brussels aimed at addressing MPs’ concerns continue “urgently”. The UK remains on course to leave the European Union on 29 March. But the government has repeatedly refused to rule out the possibility of the UK leaving without a formal deal, in the event that Mrs May cannot get MPs to approve the deal she negotiated with Brussels in time.

Many MPs fear that scenario would be damaging to business and cause chaos at ports. However, Brexiteers in the European Research Group (ERG) of Conservative MPs insist the “no-deal” option must be preserved as negotiating leverage in Brussels. Mr Percy told the BBC members of his group were becoming “tired” of the ERG’s refusal to back the prime minister. In a letter to government whips, he and co-chairman Simon Hart write: “Not only does this risk damaging the national interest, but also… we are putting in jeopardy the very thing many colleagues have spent decades campaigning for; our exit from the European Union.”

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The wonders of strip-mining social programs.

Record Surplus Gives UK Pre-Brexit Boost (G.)

Britain has recorded the biggest-ever monthly surplus in public finances since the early 1990s, putting the government on a strong footing in the run-up to Brexit, now less than 40 days away. In a rare piece of positive economic news for Philip Hammond as he prepares for his spring statement next month, income from taxes outstripped public spending by £14.9bn, the biggest January surplus since records began in 1993. Although January is typically a surplus month for the exchequer because of seasonal trends in the payment of taxes, the Office for National Statistics said last month’s surplus was £5.5bn larger than a year ago. Income and capital gains tax receipts increased by 14%, twice the average growth rate earlier in the year.

Combined, the income from self-assessed income taxes and capital gains tax receipts was £21.4bn, the highest in January since comparable records began in 2000. The data comes after several disappointing months for the chancellor, as borrowing came in worse than forecast. Government borrowing for the first 10 months of the financial year has, however, fallen almost by half, as tax receipts have been much stronger than expected. The exchequer has borrowed about £21.2bn this year so far, £18.5bn lower than at the same point a year ago, and the lowest since the 10 months to January 2001. The latest update means the government could be on track to reduce the deficit – the gap between spending and tax income – close to its target of £25.5bn set by the Office for Budget Responsibility, which is 39% less than in 2017-18.

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Who in the party will defend Corbyn?

Anti-Semitism Is Cover For A Much Deeper Divide In UK Labour Party (Cook)

The announcement by seven MPs from the UK Labour Party on Monday that they were breaking away and creating a new parliamentary faction marked the biggest internal upheaval in a British political party in nearly 40 years, when the SDP split from Labour. On Wednesday, they were joined by an eighth Labour MP, Joan Ryan, and three Conservative MPs. There are predictions more will follow. With the UK teetering on the brink of crashing out of the European Union with no deal on Brexit, the founders of the so-called Independent Group made reference to their opposition to Brexit. The chief concern cited for the split by the eight Labour MPs, though, was a supposed “anti-semitism crisis” in the party.

The breakaway faction seemingly agrees that anti-semitism has become so endemic in the party since Jeremy Corbyn became leader more than three years ago that they were left with no choice but to quit. Corbyn, it should be noted, is the first leader of a major British party to explicitly prioritise the rights of Palestinians over Israel’s continuing belligerent occupation of the Palestinian territories. Luciana Berger, a Jewish MP who has highlighted what she sees as an anti-semitism problem under Corbyn, led the charge, stating at the Independent Group’s launch that she had reached “the sickening conclusion” that Labour was “institutionally racist”. She and her allies claim she has been hounded out of the party by “anti-semitic bullying”.

[..] The timing of the defections was strange, occurring shortly after the Labour leadership revealed the findings of an investigation into complaints of anti-semitism in the party. These were the very complaints that MPs such as Berger have been citing as proof of the party’s “institutional racism”. And yet, the report decisively undercut their claims – not only of endemic anti-semitism in Labour, but of any significant problem at all. That echoed an earlier report by the Commons home affairs committee, which found there was “no reliable, empirical evidence” that Labour had more of an anti-semitism problem than any other British political party. Nonetheless, the facts seem to be playing little or no part in influencing the anti-semitism narrative. This latest report was thus almost entirely ignored by Corbyn’s opponents and by the mainstream media.

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Macron gambles that he can silence the Yellow Vests with antisemitism smear.

Macron Calls Anti-Zionism A Form Of Antisemitism (Ind.)

Emmanuel Macron has declared anti-Zionism a form of antisemitism as he ramps up France’s crackdown on racism against Jewish people. Speaking at the 34th annual dinner of the Representative Council of Jewish Institutions of France, Mr Macron said a surge in antisemitic attacks in his country had not been seen since World War Two. He promised a new law to tackle hate speech on the internet and said France would adopt the definition of antisemitism set by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA). The IHRA definition does not use the phrase “anti-Zionism” but does say denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination “e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavour,” is antisemitic.

Some critics of Israel, its occupation of territory internationally recognised as Palestinian, and its isolation of the Gaza Strip, say they risk being unfairly branded antisemitic, although the IHRA definition says: “criticism of Israel similar to that levelled against any other country” is not. Mr Macron’s words were well received from the World Jewish Congress which said: “This is just the beginning of a long road ahead. Adopting this definition of anti-Semitism must be followed by concrete steps to encode into law and ensure that this is enforced.”

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Stop suing the banks. Sue their execs instead.

Philadelphia Sues Seven Big Banks For Bond Collusion (RT)

The city of Philadelphia is suing Bank of America and six other major banks for conspiring to manipulate the rates of municipal bonds, illegally making millions of dollars while depriving the city of funds for public services. Pennsylvania’s largest city, with over 1.5 million residents, filed the complaint late on Wednesday in the federal court in Manhattan. The city accuses Bank of America, Barclays, Citigroup, Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan Chase, Royal Bank of Canada and Wells Fargo of colluding to manipulate rates of variable-rate demand obligations (VRDO), of which Philadelphia has issued over $1.6 billion-worth. The fees the banks collected, in violation of federal antitrust laws, have deprived Philadelphia and other jurisdictions of critical funding for public services, the lawsuit claims.

According to the court documents, the banks are already being criminally investigated by the Department of Justice’s antitrust division, while the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has contacted four of the defendants with questions about their conduct. The lawsuit claims that phone and email records will show that the banks agreed not to compete with each other for VRDO remarketing services between February 2008 and June 2016, resulting in artificially high rates and banks collecting fees “for doing, essentially, nothing.”

Similar lawsuits are already being litigated in Massachusetts, California, Illinois and New York, accusing major banks of conspiring to “robo-reset” the rates of state VRDOs without any considerations for the local markets or investor demand, violating the requirement to market and price the bonds at the lowest possible interest rates. Plaintiffs in those four lawsuits are seeking to recover over $1 billion in fees, ranging from $100 million in Massachusetts and $349 million in Illinois to $719 million in California, while the New York numbers have not been made available yet.

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Some things are impossible to properly summarize in a few lines. Read the whole thing at Epoch Times.

And again: the US needs a Special Counsel for this. The FBI cannot be a state within the state.

FBI Lawyer Reveals Infiltration In Trump Campaign (ET)

A key player in the FBI’s counterintelligence investigation of Donald Trump and his 2016 presidential campaign was Trisha Anderson, who, at the time, was the No. 2 lawyer at the agency’s Office of General Counsel. Despite having no specific experience in counterintelligence before coming to the FBI, Anderson was, in some manner, involved in virtually all of the significant events of the investigation. Anderson told members of the House Judiciary and Oversight committees in August last year during closed-door testimony that she was one of only about 10 people who had known about the Trump–Russia investigation prior to its official opening.

A transcript of Anderson’s testimony, which was reviewed for this article, reveals that she had read all of the FBI’s FD302 forms detailing information that the author of the Steele dossier, former British spy Christopher Steele, had provided to high-ranking Department of Justice (DOJ) official Bruce Ohr. Anderson also told lawmakers that she personally signed off on the original application for a warrant to spy on former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page without having read it. The FBI relied heavily on the unverified information in the Steele dossier—which was paid for by the Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee—to obtain the FISA warrant.

Anderson also was part of a small group of FBI personnel who got to read then-FBI Director James Comey’s memos about conversations he had with President Donald Trump. Besides the investigation into Trump, Anderson also was involved in the FBI’s investigation of Hillary Clinton for sending classified information using a private server. Anderson’s testimony reveals that she received the original referral from the inspectors general for both the State Department and Intelligence Community on Clinton after hundreds of classified emails had been found on her server. Her testimony also raises questions as to whether then-Attorney General Loretta Lynch had a conflict of interest.

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Get the impressions Stone’s getting bored sitting at home.

Judge Imposes Sweeping Gag Order On Roger Stone (MW)

A judge imposed a sweeping gag order on Roger Stone, the former political adviser to President Donald Trump, after he created an Instagram post of the judge presiding over his criminal case next to an image that appeared to show the crosshairs of a gun. Stone told the judge at a hearing Thursday he made an “egregious error.” The new gag order prevents Stone from making any public comments on the case or investigation other than to solicit funds for his legal defense. If Stone violates the new gag order, his bond will be revoked and he’ll be detained. “There will not be a third chance,” District Judge Amy Berman Jackson said.

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I had no idea.

Hungary Takes ‘Hundreds Of Venezuelan Refugees With Hungarian Ancestry’ (Ind.)

Hungary has accepted around 300 refugees from crisis-hit Venezuela, according to media reports from the country – surprising observers of its usually anti-immigration government. The refugees, who are thought to have Hungarian ancestry, are understood to have been welcomed into the country with the tacit support of the Orban administration and the help of the Hungarian Charity Service of the Order of Malta. The news has come as a surprise in the conservative central European state, given the anti-immigration stances and refugee crackdowns of premier Viktor Orban.

“We are speaking about Hungarians and we do not consider Hungarians migrants,” Mr Orban’s chief of staff, Gergely Gulyas, told a press conference in response to the report. Confirming that the programme began in April 2018, he added: “They, like any other Hungarian, have a right to return home.” A controversial law passed by the Orban government last year restricted the activities of NGOs and charities that provide assistance to migrants. The law was de facto targeted at those groups helping people arriving by land from the Middle East and Africa. The Hungarian opposition seized on the latest developments, claiming the government was acting hypocritically.

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He got it back in October apparently, so no big immediate change.

And Center Alliance Senator Patrick having asked for the passport only so Julian can give himself up to the UK police doesn’t help either.

Julian Assange Gets A New Australian Passport (SMH)

A Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade official confirmed in a Senate estimates hearing on Thursday that Mr Assange’s 2018 application for a new passport had been accepted. Consular and Crisis Management Division first assistant secretary Andrew Todd said, “Mr Assange does have an Australian passport”. [..] The department is understood to have issued Mr Assange with his new passport in October. A DFAT official at an estimate’s hearing in October said Mr Assange’s passport application had “not been rejected”. But absolute confirmation that he has actually received a new passport did not come until Thursday’s heading. DFAT officials told the estimates hearing they had no knowledge of legal proceedings against Mr Assange in the United States.

Documents show Mr Assange’s UK-based lawyer, Jennifer Robinson, applied for a new passport on his behalf in mid-2018. DFAT replied that it was of the belief that Mr Assange’s entitlement to a passport may be affected by ongoing legal proceedings in the United Kingdom. “Specifically, we understand you may be the subject of an arrest warrant in connection with a ‘serious foreign offence’ within the meaning of section 13 of the Australian Passports Act 2005,” DFAT replied. “In order to progress your application, we require confirmation that section 13 is not enlivened by your circumstances. To this end, we ask that you provide us with confirmation that section 13 no longer applies to you. Until this time, your passport application will remain on hold.”

Centre Alliance senator Rex Patrick, who has pursued Mr Assange’s right to a passport in recent estimates hearings, said that, given Mr Assange’s failing health, the best thing would be for him to leave the Ecuador embassy and face the British justice system over breaching his bail conditions. After that, he should return to Australia, Senator Patrick said.

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“Nearly four in 10 children in the city have asthma, while the rate of ovarian cancer is 64% higher than the rest of Pennsylvania and lung cancer rates are 24% higher..”

US Cities Burn Recyclables After China Bans Imports (G.)

The conscientious citizens of Philadelphia continue to put their pizza boxes, plastic bottles, yoghurt containers and other items into recycling bins. But in the past three months, half of these recyclables have been loaded on to trucks, taken to a hulking incineration facility and burned, according to the city’s government. It’s a situation being replicated across the US as cities struggle to adapt to a recent ban by China on the import of items intended for reuse. The loss of this overseas dumping ground means that plastics, paper and glass set aside for recycling by Americans is being stuffed into domestic landfills or is simply burned in vast volumes. This new reality risks an increase of plumes of toxic pollution that threaten the largely black and Latino communities who live near heavy industry and dumping sites in the US.

About 200 tons of recycling material is sent to the huge Covanta incinerator in Chester City, Pennsylvania, just outside Philadelphia, every day since China’s import ban came into practice last year, the company says. [..] Some experts worry that burning plastic recycling will create a new fog of dioxins that will worsen an already alarming health situation in Chester. Nearly four in 10 children in the city have asthma, while the rate of ovarian cancer is 64% higher than the rest of Pennsylvania and lung cancer rates are 24% higher, according to state health statistics. The dilemma with what to do with items earmarked for recycling is playing out across the US. The country generates more than 250m tons of waste a year, according to the EPA, with about a third of this recycled and composted.

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Monoculture ‘R’ Us. You add it all up, the soil is poisoned, the food is poisoned, vertebrates are disappearing, insects are going gone, and how much longer for the human species?

World Food Supply Under ‘Severe Threat’ From Loss Of Biodiversity (G.)

The world’s capacity to produce food is being undermined by humanity’s failure to protect biodiversity, according to the first UN study of the plants, animals and micro-organisms that help to put meals on our plates. The stark warning was issued by the Food and Agriculture Organisation after scientists found evidence the natural support systems that underpin the human diet are deteriorating around the world as farms, cities and factories gobble up land and pump out chemicals. Over the last two decades, approximately 20% of the earth’s vegetated surface has become less productive, said the report, launched on Friday. It noted a “debilitating” loss of soil biodiversity, forests, grasslands, coral reefs, mangroves, seagrass beds and genetic diversity in crop and livestock species. In the oceans, a third of fishing areas are being overharvested.

Many species that are indirectly involved in food production, such as birds that eat crop pests and mangrove trees that help to purify water, are less abundant than in the past, noted the study, which collated global data, academic papers and reports by the governments of 91 countries. It found 63% of plants, 11% of birds, and 5% of fish and fungi were in decline. Pollinators, which provide essential services to three-quarters of the world’s crops, are under threat. As well as the well-documented decline of bees and other insects, the report noted that 17% of vertebrate pollinators, such as bats and birds, were threatened with extinction. Once lost, the species that are critical to our food systems cannot be recovered, it said. “This places the future of our food and the environment under severe threat.”

“The foundations of our food systems are being undermined,” wrote Graziano da Silva, the director general of the Food and Agriculture Organisation, in an introduction to the study. “Parts of the global report make sombre reading. It is deeply concerning that in so many production systems in so many countries, biodiversity for food and agriculture and the ecosystem services it provides are reported to be in decline.” Agriculture was often to blame, he said, due to land-use changes and unsustainable management practices, such as over-exploitation of the soil and a reliance on pesticides, herbicides and other agro-chemicals. Most countries said the main driver for biodiversity loss was land conversion, as forests were cut down for farm fields, and meadows covered in concrete for cities, factories and roads. Other causes include overexploitation of water supplies, pollution, over-harvesting, the spread of invasive species and climate change.

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Feb 182019
 
 February 18, 2019  Posted by at 8:20 pm Primers Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  


Johannes Vermeer The art of painting 1666-8

 

Andrew McCabe, former Deputy Director from February 2016 to January 2018 and former Acting Director of the FBI from May 9, 2017, to August 2, 2017, was fired by Attorney General Jeff Sessions Sessions on March 16, 2018, 26 hours before his scheduled retirement. On April 18 2018 it was reported that the Justice Department’s inspector general, Michael Horowitz, sent a referral to the US attorney’s office in Washington for possible criminal charges against McCabe for lying to internal investigators.

When Sessions announced McCabe’s firing a month before the report came out, he said he based his decision on reports from the DOJ Inspector General and the FBI’s disciplinary office saying that McCabe had made unauthorized releases of information to the media (concerning disclosure of information to a Wall Street Journal reporter about an ongoing investigation into the Clinton Foundation), and had “lacked candor” in talking about it (“had “lacked candor” in talking” means “lied”)

For a reason I don’t really understand -is it really just because he has a book coming out?- McCabe did an interview with 60 minutes that aired Sunday, but from which details leaked earlier in the week. In it McCabe suggests he was fired because he opened two investigations into US President Donald Trump 10 months before Sessions ousted him.

That seems peculiar for two reasons: one, why would he have been permitted to investigate Trump for 10 months, if the investigations were the reason to fire him? And two, is McCabe suggesting that at least some colleagues inside the FBI itself did not accuse him of lying? I haven’t seen that denied before. It would mean both the DOJ Inspector General and the FBI’s disciplinary office were dead wrong.

In the 60 Minutes piece, McCabe appears to throw Rod Rosenstein, US Deputy Attorney General since April 26, 2017, under the bus by claiming that -among other things- Rosenstein offered to wear a wire when meeting with Trump, something Rosenstein has always claimed he had said in jest. McCabe now insists he was serious.

Best friends? Maybe not anymore. Then again, the ‘official’ picture is still that of two of a group of ‘real patriots’ out to save the country. Somehow that makes me think of the Three Musketeers, a dashing and swashbuckling anything goes for the fatherland. McCabe actually appears to think he had to protect America from its newly elected president, and so, ostensibly, does Rosenstein. D’Artagnan had a whole different class of foes, I recall.

Also ostensibly, two Trump cabinet members were “ready to support” a Rosenstein/DOJ scheme to invoke the 25th Amendment to remove President Trump, according to testimony last fall to the House Oversight and Judiciary Committees by James Baker, former FBI top lawyer. Who also mentioned for example Lisa Page was involved, love interest of Peter Strzok, both fired FBI officials well-known for their hate of Trump.

There’s a zillion more things to say about this, but it shouldn’t be me saying it, or any other writer or journalist. The reason I write this is to ask a very simple and obvious question: where is the Special Counsel who’s going to investigate this putrid quagmire? And when will (s)he finally be appointed? We know, we know, it’d be investigating the investigators, and who’s left for that job? Or are the investigators by now so corrupted that we might as well surrender?

Sure, Lindsey Graham wants the Senate Intelligence Committee to do an investigation, but is that the appropriate venue? Why a Special Counsel filled to the brim with FBI connected folk for Russiagate and ‘only’ a House Committee for FBI-gate? Or is that perhaps the wrong term? Does it matter?

And yes, a million voices will claim that a call for a Special Counsel investigation into the FBI and DOJ can only come from Trump supporters, but they really haven’t been paying attention.

William Barr is the new Attorney General, right, and Christopher Wray heads the FBI. Both organizations have to be very concerned about their credibility, because from the outside they look like cesspools. Rosenstein and McCabe’s swashbuckling should be enough reason, but we know much more went on and many more people were involved.

So let’s have it.

 

 

Feb 092019
 
 February 9, 2019  Posted by at 11:03 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Pablo Picasso Le pigeon aux petits pois (Pigeon with Peas) – stolen May 20 2010 1911

 

German Industrial Production Falls Most Since 2009. New Orders Plummet (WS)
Fed’s QE Unwind Reaches $434 Billion, Remains on “Autopilot” (WS)
UK Forcing Poor Nations Into Risky Post-Brexit Trade Deals (Ind.)
Acting AG Whitaker Says He Has Not Meddled In Russia Inquiry (AP)
US Faces A Catastrophic Food Supply Crisis, As Farmers Struggle (SHTF)
The State of the American Debt Slaves, Q4 2018 (WS)
Bezos, Amazon And Privacy (Greenwald)
Leaked Wikileaks Doc Reveals US Military Use of IMF, World Bank (MPN)
Venezuela: The US’s 68th Regime Change Disaster (AntiWar)
US In Direct Contact With Venezuelan Military, Urging Defections (R.)
Venezuela’s Maduro Spurns US Aid, Rival Warns Military Not To Block It (R.)
Dreams Die Hard (Kunstler)
Wiped Out Before Our Eyes’ Hawaii Proposes Ban On Shark Killings (G.)

 

 

Almost off the news radar, Germany’s problems get serious, and drag Europe down with it.

German Industrial Production Falls Most Since 2009. New Orders Plummet (WS)

“Unexpectedly,” German industrial production fell 3.9% in December 2018 compared to December 2017, after having fallen by a revised 4.0% in November, according to German statistics agency Destatis Thursday morning. These two drops were steepest year-over-year drops since 2009. Even during the European Debt Crisis in 2011 and 2012 – it hit Germany’s industry hard as many European countries weaved in and out of a recession, with some countries sinking into a depression — German industrial production never fell as fast on a year-over-year basis as in November and December:

The declines on a year-over-year basis were broad: Without construction, industrial production fell 3.9% year-over-year in December, after having fallen 4.5% in November. And just manufacturing production, which includes mining and quarrying, fell 4.0% year-over-year in December, after having fallen 4.6% in November. On a longer-term scale, the industrial production index peaked in May 2018 and has since fallen 4.6%. It is now back where it had first been in February 2017:

And industrial production is not getting a whole lot better any time soon as new orders for the manufacturing sector have plunged – according to data released by Destatis on Wednesday. New orders dropped 7.0% year-over-year in December (adjusted for calendar differences), after having fallen 3.4% in November and 3.0% in October. In fact, orders have fallen seven months in a row on a year-over year basis in ever larger drops. The chart below shows the decline in each month compared to the same month a year earlier — with a sharp deterioration at the end of the year:

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As I’ve said before, tweaking rates is sort of an instant measure, but re-purchasing $434 billion in assets takes much longer. If only because the Fed will cause a panic if they try.

Fed’s QE Unwind Reaches $434 Billion, Remains on “Autopilot” (WS)

The Fed shed $32 billion in assets in January, according to the Fed’s balance sheet for the week ended February 6, released this afternoon. This reduced the assets on its balance sheet to $4,026 billion, the lowest since January 2014. Since the beginning of this “balance sheet normalization,” the Fed has now shed $434 billion.

[..] the questions going forward are these: One, will the Fed continue to trim its balance sheet on “autopilot,” or will it deviate from plan and slow or stop the balance sheet reductions; Or two, will the Fed reverse course and restart QE all over again at any moment now, as the biggest Wall Street hype-mongers have prophesied; Or three, will the Fed tweak the roll-off – as a slew of Fed governors have suggested – to where it would get rid of its MBS more quickly by outright selling them; and by replacing some of them with short-term Treasury bills to lower the balance sheet’s average maturity, which currently is over eight years.

Over the next few months, the Fed will likely announce some tantalizing tidbits about how it might tweak the balance-sheet reduction. One of those tidbits will likely relate to how it will shed MBS faster and replace those additional reductions of MBS with short-term Treasury bills. The effects of this may not be what the markets had hoped for in their wildest dreams. And the Fed will likely dole out more clues about how much further it wants to cut its balance sheet. But all this will take months, and until those tweaks are nailed down and announced, the balance sheet normalization will proceed on autopilot at its by now customary glacial pace.

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Dreams of empire. France does the exact same thing.

UK Forcing Poor Nations Into Risky Post-Brexit Trade Deals (Ind.)

Some of the world’s poorest countries are being forced to agree potentially damaging trade deals with the UK by government “threats” in the rush to Brexit, campaigners say. Liam Fox, the international trade secretary, is accused of piling pressure on developing nations to “sign up blind” – without knowing the value of the deals – with a warning they will otherwise be lost. Just three of the 40 agreements the UK enjoys through EU membership, covering 71 countries, have been successfully “rolled over” – as the government promised – with Brexit day just seven weeks away. Now the Department for International Trade is under fire for telling the countries concerned they risk punishing tariffs on crucial exports to the UK, unless they re-sign the deals in time.

Among them are Ghana, which relies on banana sales, Mauritius (tuna), Kenya (flowers), Cote d’Ivoire (cocoa), Namibia (grapes and beef), Swaziland (sugar), and scores of other developing countries in Africa, the Caribbean and Central America. And, says the fair trade charity Traidcraft Exchange, they risk a legal challenge at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) under an extraordinary plan to treat EU parts as originating from the UK. “The continuity agreements are being rushed because of the threat of no deal. Countries are being asked to sign up blind,” said Liz May, the charity’s head of policy.

“Without the full picture of how the EU and UK will trade in the future, it is impossible for countries to judge what these deals are really worth, how they will work in practice or even how some elements will be enforced. “Instead of acknowledging this difficulty, the government is relying on developing countries being compelled to sign up at the last minute, rather than risk high tariffs being slapped on their key exports. “This type of bad-faith negotiating – using implicit threats to get countries ‘over the line’ – is not a great way to start the UK’s independent trade policy.”

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“I’m thinking about maybe we just set up a popcorn machine in the back because that’s what this is becoming. It’s becoming a show..”

The Senate will vote on Barr next week anyway, so why the showboating carnival?

Acting AG Whitaker Says He Has Not Meddled In Russia Inquiry (AP)

The acting attorney general, Matthew Whitaker, said on Friday that he has “not interfered in any way” in the special counsel’s Russia investigation as he faced a contentious congressional hearing in his waning days on the job. The hearing before the House Judiciary Committee was the first, and likely only, chance for newly empowered Democrats in the majority to grill an attorney general they perceive as a Donald Trump loyalist, and whose appointment they suspect was aimed at suppressing investigations of the Republican president. Democrats confronted Whitaker on his past criticism of the special counsel Robert Mueller’s work and his refusal to recuse himself from overseeing it, attacked him over his prior business dealings, and sneeringly challenged his credentials as the country’s chief law enforcement officer.

“We’re all trying to figure out: who are you, where did you come from and how the heck did you become the head of the Department of Justice,” said congressman Hakeem Jeffries. When Whitaker tried to respond, the New York Democrat interrupted: “Mr Whitaker, that was a statement, not a question. I assume you know the difference.” Yet Democrats yielded no new information about the status of the Mueller invesetigation as Whitaker repeatedly refused to discuss conversations with the president or answer questions that he thought might reveal details. Though clearly exasperated – he drew gasps and chuckles when he told the committee chairman that his five-minute time limit for questions was up – Whitaker nonetheless sought to assuage Democratic concerns by insisting he had never discussed the Mueller probe with Trump or other White House officials, and that there’d been no change in its “overall management”.

“We have followed the special counsel’s regulations to a T,” Whitaker said. “There has been no event, no decision, that has required me to take any action, and I have not interfered in any way with the special counsel’s investigation.” Republicans made clear they viewed the hearing as pointless political grandstanding, especially since Whitaker may have less than a week left in the job, and some respected his wishes by asking questions about topics other than Mueller’s inquiry into potential coordination between Russia and the Trump campaign. The Senate is expected to vote as soon as next week on confirming William Barr, Trump’s pick for attorney general. “I’m thinking about maybe we just set up a popcorn machine in the back because that’s what this is becoming. It’s becoming a show,” said the Republican congressman Doug Collins ,of Georgia, who accused his Democratic colleagues of “character assassination”.

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The US food crisis is exclusively caused by Big Ag and Monsanto. Farmers depending on China is not in their interest.

US Faces A Catastrophic Food Supply Crisis, As Farmers Struggle (SHTF)

American farmers are battling several issues when it comes to producing our food. Regulated low prices, tariffs, and the inability to export have all cut into the salaries of farmers. They are officially in crisis mode, just like the United States’ food supply. “The farm economy’s in pretty tough shape,” said John Newton, chief economist at the American Farm Bureau Federation. “When you look out on the horizon of things to come, you start to see some cracks.” Average farm income has fallen to near 15-year lows under president Donald Trump’s policies, and in some areas of the country, farm bankruptcies are soaring. And with slightly higher interest rates, many don’t see borrowing more money as an option.

“A lot of farmers are going to give the president the benefit of the doubt, and have to date. But the longer the trade war goes on, the more that dynamic changes,” said Brian Kuehl, executive director of Farmers for Free Trade, according to Politico. With no end to the disastrous trade war in sight, many farmers have traveled to Washington to share their plights with the president himself hoping that he’ll end the trade war that’s exacerbating an already precarious food crisis. Farmers make up a fairly large chunk of president Trump’s base, and an unwillingness to put food production in the United States first could be detrimental for Trump reelection chances in 2020. It could also be the beginning of a catastrophic food shortage.

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“It’s a tough job, but someone’s got to do it: Propping up the massive US economy.”

The State of the American Debt Slaves, Q4 2018 (WS)

It’s a tough job, but someone’s got to do it: Propping up the massive US economy. And consumers are doing it, but in a somewhat lackadaisical manner when it comes to spending money they don’t have. Consumer debt – more enticingly, “consumer credit” similar to “extra credit” – rose 4.7% in the fourth quarter 2018 compared to the fourth quarter last year. In the year 2018, Americans added $179 billion to their balances on their credit cards, auto loans, and student loans. Every dime was spent and added to GDP. It amounted to nearly 1% of GDP. If GDP grew 3.1% in 2018, just under one third of the growth was generated by that additional consumer debt.

Without this additional consumer borrowing, if consumers had just maintained their debt levels, GDP growth might only have been 2.2% in 2018, instead of 3.1%. So, a huge round of applause is due our debt slaves that now owe over $4 trillion for the first time ever, according to the Federal Reserve Thursday afternoon. Consumer debt includes auto loans, student loans, credit-card debt, and personal loans, but it excludes housing related debt, such as mortgages and HELOCs. The $4.01 trillion in consumer debt is up 52% from the peak early in the Financial Crisis in Q3 2008. This is not adjusted for inflation. Over the same period, the Consumer Price Index rose 16% and nominal GDP rose 39%. Thus, Americans are sticking to their time-honored plan of out-borrowing both inflation (by a big margin) and economic growth.

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Summary: Trump accused of using the same FBI that spies on him, to spy on Bezos, who’s in bed with the FBI.

I may have temporarily lost the thread, and the logic.

Bezos, Amazon And Privacy (Greenwald)

On Thursday, Bezos published emails in which the Enquirer’s parent company explicitly threatened to publish intimate photographs of Bezos and his mistress, which were apparently exchanged between the two through their iPhones, unless Bezos agreed to a series of demands involving silence about the company’s conduct. [..] Despite a lack of evidence, MSNBC is already doing what it exists to do – implying with no evidence that Trump is to blame (in this case, by abusing the powers of the NSA or FBI to spy on Bezos). But, under the circumstances, those are legitimate questions to be probing (though responsible news agencies would wait for evidence before airing innuendo of that sort).

If Bezos were the political victim of surveillance state abuses, it would be scandalous and dangerous. It would also be deeply ironic. That’s because Amazon, the company that has made Bezos the planet’s richest human being, is a critical partner for the U.S. Government in building an ever-more invasive, militarized and sprawling surveillance state. Indeed, one of the largest components of Amazon’s business, and thus one of the most important sources of Bezos’ vast wealth and power, is working with the Pentagon and the NSA to empower the U.S. Government with more potent and more sophisticated weapons, including surveillance weapons.

In December, 2017, Amazon boasted that it had perfected new face-recognition software for crowds, which it called Rekognition. It explained that the product is intended, in large part, for use by governments and police forces around the world. The ACLU quickly warned that the product is “dangerous” and that Amazon “is actively helping governments deploy it.” “Powered by artificial intelligence,” wrote the ACLU, “Rekognition can identify, track, and analyze people in real time and recognize up to 100 people in a single image. It can quickly scan information it collects against databases featuring tens of millions of faces.” “Amazon’s Rekognition raises profound civil liberties and civil rights concerns.”

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The core of the Venezuela crisis: “Hugo Chávez, broke ties with the IMF and World Bank, which he noted were “dominated by US imperialism.” Instead Venezuela and other left-wing governments in Latin America worked together to co-found the Bank of the South..”

Leaked Wikileaks Doc Reveals US Military Use of IMF, World Bank (MPN)

In a leaked military manual on “unconventional warfare” recently highlighted by WikiLeaks, the U.S. Army states that major global financial institutions — such as the World Bank, IMF, and the OECD — are used as unconventional, financial “weapons in times of conflict up to and including large-scale general war,” as well as in leveraging “the policies and cooperation of state governments.” The document, officially titled “Field Manual (FM) 3-05.130, Army Special Operations Forces Unconventional Warfare” and originally written in September 2008, was recently highlighted by WikiLeaks on Twitter in light of recent events in Venezuela as well as the years-long, U.S.-led economic siege of that country through sanctions and other means of economic warfare. Though the document has generated new interest in recent days, it had originally been released by WikiLeaks in December 2008 and has been described as the military’s “regime change handbook.”

WikiLeaks’ recent tweets on the subject drew attention to a single section of the 248-page-long document, titled “Financial Instrument of U.S. National Power and Unconventional Warfare.” This section in particular notes that the U.S. government applies “unilateral and indirect financial power through persuasive influence to international and domestic financial institutions regarding availability and terms of loans, grants, or other financial assistance to foreign state and nonstate actors,” and specifically names the World Bank, IMF and the OECD, as well as the Bank for International Settlements (BIS), as “U.S. diplomatic-financial venues to accomplish” such goals.

[..] Given the close relationship between the U.S. government and these international financial institutions, it should come as little surprise that – in Venezuela – the U.S.-backed “interim president” Juan Guaidó – has already requested IMF funds, and thus IMF-controlled debt, to fund his parallel government. This is highly significant because it shows that top among Guaidó’s objectives, in addition to privatizing Venezuela’s massive oil reserves, is to again shackle the country to the U.S.-controlled debt machine. As the Grayzone Project recently noted: Venezuela’s previous elected socialist president, Hugo Chávez, broke ties with the IMF and World Bank, which he noted were “dominated by US imperialism.” Instead Venezuela and other left-wing governments in Latin America worked together to co-found the Bank of the South, as a counterbalance to the IMF and World Bank.”

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So many millions of victims nobody tries to count anymore.

Venezuela: The US’s 68th Regime Change Disaster (AntiWar)

In his masterpiece, Killing Hope: U.S. Military and C.I.A. Interventions Since World War II, William Blum, who died in December 2018, wrote chapter-length accounts of 55 US regime change operations against countries around the world, from China (1945-1960s) to Haiti (1986-1994). Noam Chomsky’s blurb on the back of the latest edition says simply, “Far and away the best book on the topic.” We agree. If you have not read it, please do. It will give you a clearer context for what is happening in Venezuela today, and a better understanding of the world you are living in. Since Killing Hope was published in 1995, the US has conducted at least 13 more regime change operations, several of which are still active: Yugoslavia; Afghanistan; Iraq; the 3rd US invasion of Haiti since WWII; Somalia; Honduras; Libya; Syria; Ukraine; Yemen; Iran; Nicaragua; and now Venezuela.

William Blum noted that the US generally prefers what its planners call “low intensity conflict” over full-scale wars. Only in periods of supreme overconfidence has it launched its most devastating and disastrous wars, from Korea and Vietnam to Afghanistan and Iraq. After its war of mass destruction in Iraq, the US reverted to “low intensity conflict” under Obama’s doctrine of covert and proxy war. Obama conducted even heavier bombing than Bush II, and deployed US special operations forces to 150 countries all over the world, but he made sure that nearly all the bleeding and dying was done by Afghans, Syrians, Iraqis, Somalis, Libyans, Ukrainians, Yemenis and others, not by Americans. What US planners mean by “low intensity conflict” is that it is less intense for Americans.

[..] While Venezuelans face poverty, preventable diseases, malnutrition and open threats of war by US officials, those same US officials and their corporate sponsors are looking at an almost irresistible gold mine if they can bring Venezuela to its knees: a fire sale of its oil industry to foreign oil companies and the privatization of many other sectors of its economy, from hydroelectric power plants to iron, aluminum and, yes, actual gold mines. This is not speculation. It is what the US’s new puppet, Juan Guaido, has reportedly promised his American backers if they can overthrow Venezuela’s elected government and install him in the presidential palace.

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“..a source in Washington close to the opposition expressed doubts whether the Trump administration has laid enough groundwork to spur a wider mutiny in the ranks..”

US In Direct Contact With Venezuelan Military, Urging Defections (R.)

The US is holding direct communications with members of Venezuela’s military urging them to abandon President Nicolas Maduro and is also preparing new sanctions aimed at increasing pressure on him, a senior White House official said. The Trump administration expects further military defections from Maduro’s side, the official told Reuters, despite only a few senior officers having done so since opposition leader Juan Guaido declared himself interim president last month, earning the recognition of the United States and dozens of other countries. “We believe these to be those first couple pebbles before we start really seeing bigger rocks rolling down the hill,” the official said this week, speaking on condition of anonymity. “We’re still having conversations with members of the former Maduro regime, with military members, although those conversations are very, very limited.”

With the Venezuelan military still apparently loyal to Maduro, a source in Washington close to the opposition expressed doubts whether the Trump administration has laid enough groundwork to spur a wider mutiny in the ranks where many officers are suspected of benefiting from corruption and drug trafficking. Members of the South American country’s security forces fear they or their families could be targeted by Maduro if they defect, so the U.S. would need to offer them something that could outweigh those concerns, said Eric Farnsworth, vice president of the Council of the Americas think tank in Washington. “It depends on what they’re offering,” Farnsworth said. “Are there incentives built into these contacts that will at least cause people to question their loyalty to the regime?”

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A horse felled Troy.

Venezuela’s Maduro Spurns US Aid, Rival Warns Military Not To Block It (R.)

Venezuela’s government on Friday said the United States should distribute humanitarian aid in Colombia where it is being stockpiled, while the opposition warned that blocking much-needed food and medicine could constitute crimes against humanity. A day after the aid convoy arrived in the border city of Cucuta, President Nicolas Maduro ridiculed the United States for offering small amounts of assistance while maintaining sanctions that block some $10 billion of offshore assets and revenue. Rival Juan Guaido, who is recognized by dozens of countries as Venezuela’s legitimate leader, warned military officers against blocking the arrival of aid amid spiraling disease and malnutrition brought on by a hyperinflationary collapse.

“Take all that humanitarian aid and give it to the people of Cucuta, where there is a lot of need,” Maduro said in a news conference. “This is a macabre game, you see? They squeeze us by the neck and then make us beg for crumbs.” “They offer us toilet paper, like (U.S. President) Donald Trump threw at the people of Puerto Rico,” he said at the conference, which experienced technical difficulties including a blackout and a microphone failure. He was referring to Trump’s improvised 2018 aid distribution in the U.S. territory following a hurricane, during which he threw rolls of paper towels.

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“Societies and economies are fundamentally emergent, non-linear, and self-organizing as they respond to the mandates of reality — which are not necessarily consistent with human wishes.”

Dreams Die Hard (Kunstler)

America has been blowing green smoke up its own ass for years, promoting oxymorons such as “green skyscrapers” and “clean energy,” but the truth is we’re not going to run WalMart, Suburbia, DisneyWorld, and the interstate highway system on any combination of wind, solar, geothermal, recycled Fry-Max, and dark matter. We’re just running too much stuff at too great a scale for too many people. We’ve blown through the capital already and replaced it with IOUs that will never be honored, and we’re caught in an entropy trap of diminishing returns from all the work-arounds we’re desperately trying. For all that, there are actually some sound proposals in the mostly delusional matrix of the Green New Deal promoted by foxy front-person AOC.

• Revoke corporate personhood by amending our Constitution to make clear that corporations are not persons and money is not speech. Right on, I say, though they have not quite articulated the argument which is that corporations, unlike persons, have no vested allegiance to the public interest, but rather a legal obligation solely to shareholders and their boards-of-directors.
• Replace partisan oversight of elections with non-partisan election commissions. A no-brainer.
• Replace big money control of election campaigns with full public financing and free and equal access to the airwaves. Quite cheap and worth every penny.
• Break up the oversized banks that are “too big to fail.” And while you’re at it, resume enforcement of the anti-trust laws.
• Restore the Glass-Steagall separation of depository commercial banks from speculative investment banks. Duh….

There are two kinds of deadly narcissism at work in American culture these days: techno-narcissism — the belief that magical rescue remedies can save the status quo of comforts and conveniences — and organizational narcissism — the belief that any number of committees can lead a march of humanity into a future of rainbows and unicorns. Both of these ideas are artifacts of a fossil fuel turbo-charged economy that is coming to an end. Societies and economies are fundamentally emergent, non-linear, and self-organizing as they respond to the mandates of reality — which are not necessarily consistent with human wishes. Circumstances in the world change and sometimes, when the changes are profound enough, they provoke episodes of flux and disorder. A better index for our journey into the unknown frontier beyond modernity will not be what is “green” and “smart” but perhaps what is “sane” and “insane.”

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100 million sharks are killed globally each year.

We need to protect, and love, life in all its glory and beauty, because we are life. But we don’t see what connects us to all that we kill, we think we’re some separate entity.

There is no more flagrant failure in our education systems than this: they don’t teach us who we are.

Wiped Out Before Our Eyes’ Hawaii Proposes Ban On Shark Killings (G.)

Sharks could soon become more numerous in Hawaii waters – and advocates say that’s a good thing. Lawmakers in Honolulu advanced a proposed ban on killing sharks in state waters on Wednesday, after receiving hundreds of calls and letters of support from around the country. The law, which would provide sweeping protection for any shark, rather than select species, could be the first of its kind in the United States. “These amazing animals are getting wiped out before our eyes, and people don’t even realize what they’re missing out on,” said Ocean Ramsey, a Hawaii-based shark conservationist, researcher and tour operator who has been instrumental in lobbying for the bill. Last month, a photo of Ramsey swimming with a 6-metre (20ft) great white shark off the coast of Oahu went viral.


Photograph: OneOceanDiving

Along with killing the animals, capturing or harming them would also incur fines and count as a misdemeanor offense. Sharks, Ramsey said, are deeply misunderstood. Their presence in the ocean is unlike any other animal’s, she noted. “Everything else in the ocean swims away from you, but you can have these incredible interactions with sharks because they’re apex predators and they’re not afraid of you.” The threats to Hawaii’s sharks are numerous, proponents of the bill argue. [..] shark fins can sometimes sell for as much as $500 a pound. Shark fin soup, a delicacy once favored by Chinese emperors, has become widely popular as a status symbol in modern China. As a result, nearly 100 million sharks are killed globally each year, and species are disappearing.

[..] Sharks are crucial to Hawaii’s marine ecosystem, and oceans worldwide. “They’re the ocean’s immune system,” Ramsey said. Multiple studies have linked shark populations to overall ocean health. They serve a critical purpose by picking off sick and injured marine animals and keeping smaller fish populations under control. When the shark population declines, large predatory fish can overproduce and decimate the populations of small plant-eating fish, which are crucial to keeping algae down and supporting reef systems.


Photograph: OneOceanDiving

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Feb 042019
 
 February 4, 2019  Posted by at 4:25 pm Finance, Primers Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Rembrandt van Rijn Aristotle Contemplating a Bust of Homer 1653

 

That statement is going to make me real popular, right? Any criticism of Robert Mueller for many people equals support for President Trump. But it doesn’t, and Mueller really is a coward and a liar, and it’s not hard to make that case, it’s even easier than how he makes his cases, because we can actually prove ours. We also don’t have to pervert the law, but he does.

Robert Mueller is a coward because he again, in his indictment of Roger Stone last week, makes claims against people who can’t defend themselves, and who moreover have in at least one case, that of Julian Assange, previously and repeatedly denied those claims. And Robert Mueller’s a liar because many of his claims are evidently not true; but though he will never be able to prove them, and he knows it, he still makes his ‘case’ based on them.

It’s also public knowledge that Mueller has lied since at least the WMD facade. On February 11 2003, then FBI director Mueller testified before Congress: “..as Director Tenet has pointed out, Secretary Powell presented evidence last week that Baghdad has failed to disarm its weapons of mass destruction, willfully attempting to evade and deceive the international community. Our particular concern is that Saddam Hussein may supply terrorists with biological, chemical, or radiological material.”

We know today he was lying, as was Colin Powell (and the entire Bush administration). Which is also interesting because a number of Mueller’s accusations against various ‘suspects’ are basically just that: someone has lied to Congress and must be punished for it. This is again the case in Roger Stone’s indictment, which would ring awfully hollow without it. And we don’t have to know how true that accusation is to realize that it’s being brought by someone who himself lied to Congress, but was never indicted for it. That is curious no matter how you look at it.

So what would happen if Mueller takes any of his present indictments into a courtroom? Note: as long as he treats those he indicts the same way he treated Paul Manafort and others, he’ll probably never have to present anything in a court; every ‘suspect’ will sign a plea deal because he threatens to destroy them, their freedom, their finances, their families. But what IF he did, purely hypothetically? What proof -not allegations- could he present to a judge about Russians hacking US-based servers or computers?

And what evidence of Julian Assange working with Russians, or with the Trump campaign? He has none. All there is is US intelligence agencies making claims without providing evidence. And they are a party to the whole story, they are not mere observers, so no judge worth his/her salt can accept their word on anything just because it’s them saying it. Even the FBI has to present evidence. In court, that is.

In the meantime, in the absence of a courtroom, Robert Mueller has been free to accuse people for 20 months now, without proof. And what those 20 months have shown us culminates in the Roger Stone indictment, which makes clear -once more- that there was no collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign.

 

Given his legal status, Mueller should be invested with the power to demand he gets the opportunity to talk to Assange. And in the unlikely event that he’s not provided with that opportunity by his superiors, at the very least he must stop talking about Assange. Can’t talk TO him, then stop talking ABOUT him. Sure, he never mentions his name, but that’s just more cowardice. We all know who Organization 1 is in Mueller’s indictments. And we all know who spoke for Organization 1 before he was muzzled.

Mueller could for instance travel to the Ecuadorian embassy in London, after negotiating, both with the man himself and with ‘authorities’ from Ecuador, UK and US, to have a meeting with Assange. Considering his importance as head of an investigation into collusion that might topple a president and start a new cold war with Russia, that should be easy to do. But Mueller hasn’t talked to Assange. Nor has he indicated that he tried.

Mueller accusing Assange without talking to him should raise suspicions that he is not interested in finding the truth, but has other goals. And that shines a dark light on his entire investigation. Because of the fact itself, but also because Assange is a pivotal person in the entire Russia collusion narrative. Mueller can’t make his case without accusing, defaming Assange.

Assange is crucial in the Mueller indictment of 12 Russians issued conveniently three days before the Trump-Putin summit in Helsinki, he’s crucial in the case made against Paul Manafort, and he’s again crucial in the indictment of Roger Stone. Without Assange, Mueller’s hands are empty. Julian is presented as the conduit between Trump and Russia. No conduit, no connection. And Assange has always denied the entire thing, all of it.

 

People who have been accused of, let alone indicted in, a crime, must be given their day in court, says American law, to be able to defend themselves against their accusers. But Assange is not, which means Robert Mueller is no less than a grave threat to the entire American justice system. Not Mueller alone, for sure, but he, along with the Attorney General and Deputy AG (and believe it or not, the President), are immediately responsible for the way the justice system is being perverted. That is very serious business.

As I said above, Mueller first, supposedly accidentally, dragged Assange into his investigation three days before the July 16 2018 Trump/Putin meeting in Helsinki, when he indicted 12 Russians and ‘Organization 1’. That indictment is here. It was arguably the first tangible thing that came out of the investigation, and while it was heralded as gospel by everyone who wants Trump to hang, it was shot so full of holes by others in no time that the term ‘tangible’ perhaps needs to be replaced.

That first indictment was not based on facts, it was based on faith (in US intelligence). 12 Russians who can’t defend themselves were grouped together as Guccifer 2, whose Russian lineage was also shot to smithereens within hours, and then there was Assange. Last week’s indictment, that of Roger Stone, perhaps -we can’t even be sure- alludes to Stone colluding with either Russians or Assange, but it carries no evidence of any collusion.

As WikiLeaks tweeted: “The indictment doesn’t have any reference to Stone talking to Assange, or Assange talking to Stone, or anyone at WikiLeaks telling him anything, whatsoever. It’s literally old men reading the news and wishing for things.

 

The job of a Special Counsel, his/her mandate, is to gather evidence of those crimes (s)he has been tasked with investigating. That mandate can be wide, but certainly not unlimited. The job at hand is not to suggest that things MIGHT have happened. It is not to blindly follow everything US intelligence may or may not claim is true, because all accusations will eventually have to be proven in a courtroom.

And it is not to point fingers at people for things the Special Counsel can’t prove they’ve done, or to accuse people who cannot defend themselves against whatever it is he or she might say (because then (s)he might say anything).

Mueller has never charged Assange with anything, despite the fact that Julian is all over all of his indictments. Mueller also refuses to talk to Assange, ostensibly because that way he can continue to accuse him of all manner of unproven ‘crimes’, and if he doesn’t have to prove what he accuses Assange of, he can accuse anyone of being in touch with Assange and conspiring to enact all sorts of collusion.

 

It’s a pity that America is so divided into a pro-Trump and anti-Trump side, and never the twain shall meet, because the perversion of the justice system exemplified by the Mueller investigation is very real; it’s rotting from the inside. This has not about Trump, if anything it’s about the justice system granting someone the right to defend themselves, which is being violated by Robert Mueller on a daily basis.

In early 2017, the DOJ attempted to set up meetings with Assange, who in the process offered evidence that there was no Russian involvement in the files WikiLeaks published in 2016. Those attempts, when near completion, were halted by Mueller’s very good friend James Comey and Senator Mark Warner (D-Va.).

Warner last week in his capacity as Senate Intelligence Committee Vice Chairman said about the Stone indictment: “It is clear from this indictment that those contacts [between Stone and WikiLeaks] happened at least with the full knowledge of, and appear to have been encouraged by, the highest levels of the Trump campaign..” No, Mr. Warner, that is sort of the exact point here. It is not clear. Nor is it true. And you know that, sir.

A year and a half later, in July 2018, Senator Rand Paul said that if Assange would agree to testify in the US, “I think that he should be given immunity from prosecution in exchange for coming to the United States and testifying” Nothing came from that either. Where was Mueller?

Every single American should be alarmed by this perversion of justice. Nothing to do with what you think of Trump, or of Assange. The very principles of the system are being perverted, including, but certainly not limited to, its deepest core, that of every individual’s right to defend themselves.

Just so Robert Mueller can continue his already failed investigation into collusion that has shown no such thing, and which wouldn’t have been started 20 months ago if we knew then what we know now.

Get off your Trump collusion hobby-horse, that quest has already died regardless, and start defending the legal system and the Constitution. Because if you don’t, what’s to keep the next Robert Mueller from going after you, or someone you like or love? It’s in everyone’s interest to demand that these proceedings – like all legal proceedings- are conducted according to the law, but in Mueller’s hands, they are not.

And that should be a much bigger worry than whether or not you like or dislike a former game-show host.

 

 

Jan 242019
 
 January 24, 2019  Posted by at 10:40 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Giuseppe Arcimboldo Four elements – Air 1566

 

Russia And Key Allies Vow To Stand By Maduro In Venezuela Crisis (G.)
Trump Delays State Of The Union (ZH)
Julian Assange Launches Legal Challenge Against Trump Administration (G.)
US Prosecutors Press Witnesses To Testify Against Assange: WikiLeaks (R.)
Hundreds Of Companies To Flee UK Because Of Brexit (Ind.)
EU Will Never Accept Theresa May’s Brexit ‘Plan-B’ – Barnier (Ind.)
No-Deal Brexit ‘Poses Threat To Global Stability’ – CBI Head in Davos (G.)
Australia Heatwave Breaks All-Time Records (G.)
How The Clinton Machine Flooded The FBI With Trump-Russia Dirt (Solomon)
EU Commissioner Avramopoulos Says Greece-FYROM Name Deal ‘Is Problematic’ (K.)
Planetary Collision Created Moon, Seeded Earth With Life-Producing Elements (RT)

 

 

The CIA couldn’t get to Chavez, but the moment he passed this became inevitable. Why Trump supports an unelected puppet while Russia, China, and Venezuela’s own army do not is anyone’s guess. The power of Langley.

Russia And Key Allies Vow To Stand By Maduro In Venezuela Crisis (G.)

Venezuela’s opposition leader, Juan Guaidó, has declared himself the interim president and has won the backing of the US, the EU and most of the regional bloc called the Lima Group – but a number of key allies remained steadfast in support of president Nicolás Maduro. Russia, a major Venezuelan ally, considers attempts to force Maduro from power to be illegal, Vyacheslav Volodin, the speaker of Russia’s lower house of parliament, was quoted as saying on Thursday by the Interfax news agency. Franz Klintsevich, a senator and retired colonel, has warned that Moscow could wind up its military cooperation with Venezuela if Maduro, who he called the legitimately-elected president, was ousted.

Other MPs criticised US actions against Maduro. “The US is trying to carry out an operation to organise the next ‘colour revolution’ in Venezuela,” said Andrei Klimov, deputy chairman of the foreign affairs committee of the upper house of parliament, using a term for the popular uprisings that unseated leaders in Georgia, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan. Another committee member, Vladimir Dzhabrailov, said: “I do not think that we can recognise this – it is, in essence, a coup.” Russia’s largest oil company, Rosneft, is heavily invested in the South American nation’s oil fields, which produce declining amounts of crude each month. [Turkish President] Erdogan telephoned Maduro and offered his support, a spokesman said on Thursday.

China has not yet publicly declared its support for Maduro but Venezuela has been one of Beijing’s closest allies in Latin America, and the largest recipient of Chinese financing, as much as £38bn in loans by 2017. China is Venezuela’s largest creditor, prompting concerns that as Venezuela’s economy spirals, state assets could fall into Chinese hands, as was the case with Sri Lanka’s Hambantota port. Mexico, part of the 14-member Lima Group, departed from the regional bloc’s call for democratic transition and said it would stick to its “constitutional principles of non-intervention”. It joined with Uruguay – the only other prominent Latin American country still recognising Maduro – in calling for additional talks between the government and opposition to find a “peaceful solution”.

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And why not. Things are not ugly enough yet.

Trump Delays State Of The Union (ZH)

After more than a week of back-and-forth with the Democratic leadership, President Trump has called off his search for an alternative venue for the State of the Union according to a pair of tweets sent late Wednesday night. Instead, he will reschedule the speech after the shutdown has ended due to the difficulty in finding a venue “that can compete with the history, tradition and importance of the House Chamber!” Trump blamed the decision to reschedule on Pelosi, and rightfully so. The Democratic leader is refusing to pass a resolution needed to formally invite the president to give the address at the Capitol. But lest Americans accuse her of pursuing political ends, Pelosi argued that “security concerns” motivated her to cancel the speech ue to both the Secret Service and DHS being affected by the shutdown, though both have assured the president that security wouldn’t be an issue if the SOTU was allowed to move forward.

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It’s absolutely nuts that it’s the Guardian, never having apologized for its fake piece about Assange and Manafort in November, which now comes with this, and even cites its own involvement in Assange’s initial leaks.

It’s like nothing ever happened.

Julian Assange Launches Legal Challenge Against Trump Administration (G.)

Julian Assange, the fugitive WikiLeaks founder whose diplomatic sanctuary in the Ecuadorian embassy appears increasingly precarious, is launching a legal challenge against the Trump administration. Lawyers for the Australian activist have filed an urgent application to the Washington-based Inter-American Commission of Human Rights (IACHR) aimed at forcing the hand of US prosecutors, requiring them to “unseal” any secret charges against him. The legal move is an attempt to prevent Assange’s extradition to the US at a time that a new Ecuadorian government has been making his stay in the central London apartment increasingly inhospitable.

[..] The IACHR monitors human rights in the Americas and hears appeals on individual cases. The Trump administration, however, has boycotted its recent hearings. The 1,172-page submission by Assange’s lawyers calls on the US to unseal any secret charges against him and urges Ecuador to cease its “espionage activities” against him. Baltasar Garzón, the prominent Spanish judge who has pursued dictators, terrorists and drug barons, is the international coordinator of Assange’s legal team. He has said the case involves “the right to access and impart information freely” that has been put in “jeopardy”.

The Trump administration is refusing to reveal details of charges against Assange despite the fact that sources in the US Department of Justice have confirmed to the media that they exist under seal. “The revelation that the US has initiated a prosecution against Mr Assange has shocked the international community”, the legal submission to the IACHR states. The US government “is required to provide information as to the criminal charges that are imputed to Mr Assange in full”. The application alleges that US prosecutors have begun approaching people in the US, Germany and Iceland and pressed them to testify against Assange in return for immunity from prosecution. [..] In December, the New York Times reported that Ecuador’s new president, Lenin Moreno tried to negotiate handing over Mr Assange to the US. in exchange for “debt relief”..

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The Feds like traitors.

US Prosecutors Press Witnesses To Testify Against Assange: WikiLeaks (R.)

U.S. federal prosecutors have stepped up efforts to pressure witnesses to testify against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, WikiLeaks said on Wednesday, in connection with what it said were secret criminal charges filed by the Trump administration. [..] A spokesman for the federal prosecutors’ office in Alexandria, Virginia, which has taken the lead for several years in investigations into WikiLeaks, did not respond to a request for comment on this story. According to the document filed to the human rights commission, one of the people contacted by Alexandria prosecutors was Jacob Appelbaum, a Berlin-based U.S. computer expert and hacker. Appelbaum told Reuters that while prosecutors offered him broad immunity from prosecution, he had no interest in cooperating or testifying before a grand jury.

Another potential witness targeted by U.S. prosecutors was David House, a Massachusetts computer programmer, the document said. House was involved in setting up a group to support Chelsea Manning, a U.S. soldier who passed on military communications to WikiLeaks and was jailed by U.S. authorities. House could not be reached. The American Civil Liberties Union which represented him in connection with the Manning case did not respond to requests for comment. The Justice Department also contacted American activist and computer scientist, Jason Katz. Katz, who has lived in Iceland since 2011, did not respond to a request for comment sent to that country’s Pirate Party, of which he was a founding member.

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“The Netherlands has sometimes appeared better prepared for Brexit than the UK..” Everyone is.

Hundreds Of Companies To Flee UK Because Of Brexit (Ind.)

More than 250 companies are in touch with the Dutch government about moving to the Netherlands because of Brexit, officials have said. The trade and investment arm of the country’s government has been soliciting moves from companies worried about access to the EU market, with Britain set to leave the single market and customs union. A number of high-profile companies have already announced a decision to cross the North Sea, most recently Japanese electronics giant Sony specifically citing Brexit. Last year Panasonic also announced it was moving to Amsterdam. Michiel Bakhuizen, a spokesman for the Netherlands Foreign Investment Agency (NFIA), told the AFP news agency that the number of firms in talks was growing.

“The number of businesses we are in contact with for a possible arrival is growing. At the start of 2017 it was 80, at the start of 2018 150, and now it’s more than 250,” he said. [..] The Netherlands has sometimes appeared better prepared for Brexit than the UK, with advanced plans to recruit as many as 1,000 extra border officials to deal with potential disruption and extra bureaucracy caused by the UK’s exit. In addition to private businesses, the UK has also lost a key EU agency to Amsterdam: the European Medicines Agency, which employs around 900 highly skilled workers. The Netherlands is not the only country to benefit from the UK’s policies. The EY financial services tracker reported earlier this month that 80 out of the 222 finance companies it follows have publicly said they are considering or have confirmed the relocation of UK staff and operations to the continent.

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“..opposing a no deal will not stop a no deal from happening at the end of March..”

EU Will Never Accept Theresa May’s Brexit ‘Plan-B’ – Barnier (Ind.)

The EU’s chief Brexit negotiator has ruled out ever accepting Theresa May’s Brexit plan B, in a major blow to the prime minister’s bid to get MPs to back her plan. Michel Barnier said repeated requests for a time limit on the controversial backstop had already been discussed and rejected twice by EU leaders. But he also signalled there could be a way to avoid a hard border in Ireland in the event of a no deal, telling an EU committee on Wednesday: “We will have to find an operational way of carrying out checks and controls without putting back in place a border.” In a separate joint interview with continental newspapers Mr Barnier said “we cannot tie the backstop to a time limit” as suggested by the prime minister.

He said the withdrawal agreement on the table was “the only possible option” for Britain and also ruled out the possibility of a so-called “managed no deal” as advocated by some Tory Brexiteers. “In the case of no deal, action will of course be taken to ensure that planes can land but … the ‘no deal’ cannot be a sum of mini-deals and be a situation of ‘business as usual’,” he [said]. “Even an agreement for an ordered Brexit will cause disruptions and have serious consequences. The ‘no deal’ even more so.” At the committee the chief negotiator elaborated, warning that the only way to avoid the UK crashing was to endorse another option on the table. “There appears to be a majority in the Commons to oppose a no deal but opposing a no deal will not stop a no deal from happening at the end of March”, he told the committee. “To stop no deal, a positive majority for another solution will need to emerge.”

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The cold and snowy air gets to people’s heads.

No-Deal Brexit ‘Poses Threat To Global Stability’ – CBI Head in Davos (G.)

Fears are growing internationally that a no-deal Brexit poses a threat to the stability of the global economy, the head of Britain’s leading business body has warned. Carolyn Fairbairn, director-general of the CBI, said the failure to sort out Britain’s departure from the European Union was damaging Britain’s brand abroad and had joined a list of systemic risks to the world economy. Speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Fairbairn said there was mounting concern at the potential for a no-deal Brexit to cause damage well beyond the UK. The CBI held a private breakfast for UK business leaders in Davos attended by the head of the International Monetary Fund, Christine Lagarde. The UK chancellor, Philip Hammond, will address a CBI lunch on Thursday.

Fairbairn told the Guardian: “At my meetings at Davos, there is a recognition that the causes of vulnerability of the global economy now include Brexit.” The annual gathering of the WEF has been marked this year by anxiety about slowing growth and the trade dispute between the US and China. Fairbairn said Brexit had now catapulted up the list of worries. “It is everyone’s interest that Britain leaves the EU in a way that works for the British economy, the European economy and indeed the global economy,” she said.

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Port Augusta’s 49.5ºC is 121.1ºF.

Australia Heatwave Breaks All-Time Records (G.)

Temperature records have tumbled across South Australia, with the city of Adelaide experiencing its hottest day on record, as the second heatwave in as many weeks hit southern parts of Australia. Adelaide hit 46.6C on Thursday afternoon, the hottest temperature recording in any Australian state capital city since records began 80 years ago. The Red Lion, a pub in the city’s Elizabeth North suburb, promised to hand out free beers if the mercury rose above 45C. By 1pm, there was a line out the door and round the block.In Port Augusta, 300km north-west, an all-time record was also set, as the city hit 49.5C.

Last week, temperatures in Adelaide, home to 1.3 million people, hit 45C, sending homelessness shelters into a “code red”, and sparking fears of another mass fish death in the Menindee Lakes in the neighbouring state of New South Wales. In central and western Australia, local authorities were forced to carry out an emergency animal cull, shooting 2,500 camels – and potentially a further hundred feral horses – who were dying of thirst.

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As soon as I read Victoria Nuland’s name I know what is going on.

How The Clinton Machine Flooded The FBI With Trump-Russia Dirt (Solomon)

Then-senior State Department official Jonathan Winer, who worked for then-Secretary John Kerry, wrote that Steele first approached him in the summer with his Trump research and then met again with him in September. Winer consulted his boss, Assistant Secretary for Eurasia Affairs Victoria Nuland, who said she first learned of Steele’s allegations in late July and urged Winer to send it to the FBI. (If you need further intrigue, Winer worked from 2008 to 2013 for the lobbying and public relations firm APCO Worldwide, the same firm that was a contractor for both the Clinton Global Initiative and Russia’s main nuclear fuel company that won big decisions from the Obama administration.) When the State Department office that oversees Russian affairs sends something to the FBI, agents take note.

But Steele was hardly done. He reached out to his longtime Justice Department contact, Bruce Ohr, then a deputy to Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates. Steele had breakfast July 30, 2016, with Ohr and his wife, Nellie, to discuss the Russia-Trump dirt. (To thicken the plot, you should know that Nellie Ohr was a Russia expert working at the time for the same Fusion GPS firm that hired Steele and was hired by the Clinton campaign through Sussmann’s Perkins Coie.) Bruce Ohr immediately took Steele’s dirt on July 31, 2016, to then-FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe. When the deputy attorney general’s office contacts the FBI, things happen. And, soon, Ohr was connected to the agents running the new Russia probe.

Around the same time, Australia’s ambassador to London, Alexander Downer, reached out to U.S. officials. Like so many characters in this narrative, Downer had his own connection to the Clintons: He secured a $25 million donation from Australia’s government to the Clinton Foundation in the early 2000s. Downer claims WikiLeaks’s release of hacked Clinton emails that month caused him to remember a conversation in May, in a London tavern, with a Trump adviser named George Papadopoulos. So he reported it to the FBI. The saturation campaign kept building. Sometime in September, Winer and Nuland got another version of Steele-like research suggesting Trump-Russia collusion, this time from known associates of the Clintons: Sidney Blumenthal and Cody Shearer. Again, it was sent to the FBI.

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A rare wiser voice: “..the government should have sought to achieve a national consensus”

Vote is later today, riots are certain. How bad is it going to get?

EU Commissioner Avramopoulos Says Greece-FYROM Name Deal ‘Is Problematic’ (K.)

EU Commissioner for Migration Dimitris Avramopoulos on Wednesday described the name deal reached between Greece and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) as “problematic,” arguing it favors the latter. “The Prespes agreement is not balanced, and therefore it is problematic. The geographic qualifier on which all [Greek] governments agreed on is one thing, but the historic qualifier, attempted through the agreement, is another,” he was quoted as saying by state-run news agency ANA-MPA. He said ethnicity and language constitute national identity and, in the case of the Prespes accord, they “open the way for irredentist, nationalist policies.” Avramopoulos said the government should have sought to achieve a national consensus on the name dispute before making the deal.

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And then I saw God.

Planetary Collision Created Moon, Seeded Earth With Life-Producing Elements (RT)

The elemental building-blocks of life arrived on Earth when it collided with a “Mars-sized planet” 4.4 billion years ago – an impact that also created the Moon, a new study has found. Carbon, nitrogen, sulfur, and other volatile elements integral to life were transferred to Earth’s outer layers through collision with a slightly smaller planet rich in these elements at the beginning of its existence. This impact produced the moon and, eventually, gave rise to carbon-based life, according to a new model of Earth’s development devised by petrologists at Rice University. In a collision with Earth, the volatile materials could transfer from the Mars-sized planet to Earth’s surface, but wouldn’t permeate to its core, which does not interact with its outer layers.

This model solves a mystery that has puzzled geologists for decades regarding why these vital elements exist in all layers of Earth except its molten core. “The core doesn’t interact with the rest of Earth, but everything above it, the mantle, the crust, the hydrosphere and the atmosphere, are all connected,” explained Damanveer Grewal, lead author of the study, which was published in Science Advances. “Material cycles between them.” The collision theory resembles existing models in which a meteorite is responsible for seeding the volatile elements on Earth. Unfortunately, the carbon to nitrogen ratio in such meteorites (called carbonaceous chondrites) is much lower than the ratio found in Earth’s non-core material. Additionally, the collision theory explains why the moon and Earth have the same elemental composition – they were once part of the same sphere.


© Rasjdeep Dasgupta

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