We’ve been talking a lot lately at the Automatic Earth about programs to vaccinate children. It’s one more thing that people appear to blindly accept as necessary and beneficial to our societies. While the only consideration really should be how beneficial it is to the children themselves. Most people here, at least, seem to agree on that. But that’s just here.
The US, Germany, Canada, and soon France and Spain all have plans, some already have been rolled out, to carpet bomb the virus by going after their children, and there is no doubt many more countries will follow their example.
Since we know there is no medical reason to do so, we must ask what the ethical and legal aspects tell us. And I can’t find those. How and why can you justify injecting people against something that is no threat to them, with a substance that potentially is a much worse threat?
I dug up a graph again that I posted in April, which spells out the Covid risk for all age groups, including children:
If your chance of survival is 99.99996%, there is no risk. And you don’t need to be inoculated. That would -at best- be equivalent to keeping your kids home 24/7 because you are afraid of what might happen in traffic, or in social life with other kids, or some bogeyman. The risk is never zero, but close enough that we do not act on it, and call it common sense.
The arguments that are usually used are that 1) kids must be jabbed to protect others around them, and 2) that the vaccines have been tested and proven safe. Obviously, 1) is very curious, and never been used before, and 2) is simply a lie: vaccines need years of testing for side effects, not months, and certainly not weeks, as is now the case for the effects on children.
The “testing” is simply that if not too many people drop dead after 5 minutes, well, then it must be safe, as institutions like the European Medicines Agency solemnly declare. Completely ignoring potential long term effects, something that seems essential in mRNA “vaccines” because of their potential effects on fertility etc. We just don’t know, but we should before applying the substances. There’s a reason none of the vaccines have been approved.
As for that alleged safety, this is from the European version of the American VAERS system:
1,5 million adverse reactions, and those are just the ones that have been reported. Now, I don’t know how many people in Europe have been inoculated, but I bet you this is not a 99.99996% success story. The numbers of deaths are not, either.
So I was happy to see some actual common sense reported in a Dutch paper today (Google translated), where the Health Council in the Netherlands injects at least some nuance into the debate. For kids with underlying conditions, like severe obesity or lung- and heart problems, some protection might make sense. I still wouldn’t go with mRNA vaccines, I would use ivermectin instead, but I get the reasoning somewhat.
The Health Council advises the cabinet to vaccinate children from the age of 12 with a medical risk against the corona virus. Vaccinating all children in that age group, as is done in Germany, France and the US, for example, is not yet on the agenda. An opinion on this will follow in a few weeks. The current advice concerns children aged 12 to 17 who are annually invited for the flu shot and children with severe obesity. According to the Health Council, vaccination of these children provides significant health benefits, because they run a high risk of a serious course of Covid-19. According to chairman Bart-Jan Kullberg, that risk is twice as high as in healthy children.
The corona pandemic also indirectly has a major impact on children at medical risk. To avoid the risk of contamination, for example, they do not go to school or social activities. The Health Council also takes this ‘social-emotional impact’ into account. The council cannot estimate the number of children involved. “It concerns, for example, children with a heart or lung disease. There are also many small groups with a rare condition. General practitioners and paediatricians have a good picture of these groups,” says Kullberg.
An advice on vaccinating healthy children will only follow in a few weeks. The vast majority of children do not or hardly get sick after a corona infection. So far, almost 280,000 children in the Netherlands are known to have been infected. Usually they had only mild symptoms, such as a cold and cough. In the age group 0-12 years, 379 children were hospitalized. In the 13-17 age group, there have been 101 since September. A total of three children have died; all three had an underlying condition. Last month, the European Medicines Agency (EMA) gave the green light for the use of the Pfizer vaccine in children from 12 years of age. More and more countries are also vaccinating all healthy children over the age of 12 to slow down the spread of the coronavirus.
Vaccinating children from the age of 12 against the coronavirus can make a significant contribution to curbing the pandemic, OMT chairman Jaap van Dissel already suggested last weekend. According to him, it reduces the reproductive value (R) of the virus in winter by as much as this. about 15 percent. “That can be important to keep the spread low during that period as well.” In Germany, for example, teenagers will be vaccinated from next Monday, in France from mid-June and in Spain from mid-August. The US and Canada have been at it for weeks.
Vaccinating healthy children, who themselves hardly run the risk of becoming seriously ill after a corona infection, requires a ‘broader medical, epidemiological, ethical and legal consideration’, according to the Health Council. “It also depends on the phase of the pandemic,” Kullberg said. Because the number of infections is currently falling sharply and more than a million adults are now vaccinated every week, there is no reason to make that decision hastily, he says.
Now, mind you, that is the same country that admitted depriving children of their freedom, their development, and normal lives, in order to manipulate their parents. Talk about ethics. As I said a few days ago, “Holland closed schools not to protect children, but to make parents stay home. Think about how crazy that is.”
Due to the Dutch corona policy to close schools and thus keep parents at home, children have been used as a means to fight the epidemic. Our cabinet receives that hard slap on the fingers today in the annual worldwide children’s rights report, the KidsRights Index. According to the makers, the Netherlands has set a very bad example internationally, by not even trying to keep schools open safely. With all the consequences that entails for the mental health of our youth. The corona guidelines from the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child have also been neglected. Youth has not been given any priority in Dutch policy, it sounds.
Statements by corona minister Hugo de Jonge, dated mid-December 2020, are presented as proof. Then De Jonge indeed mentioned on television as the reason why the cabinet decided to close the schools, that parents with children sitting at home will therefore start working from home more quickly. When parents take their children to school, that is another moment of contact, De Jonge explained at the time. “And we also learned from the first wave, when the schools were also closed, that the fact that primary education does not provide physical education also ensures that parents adhere better to another advice, namely: work from home as much as possible. ”, said the minister at the time.
“Children’s rights have been put in second place by the cabinet during corona time,” Marc Dullaert, founder of the international children’s rights organization KidsRights, now told this site. “They were the ankle bracelet for parents. These had to be kept at home in order to effectively fight the epidemic. At the expense of their mental health.” In the first phase, when everyone was looking for the right approach, this was understandable according to Dullaert. ,,But De Jonge’s statements came at a time when it was really no longer acceptable, in the second phase. And other countries – such as Belgium and Sweden – have done everything they can to keep the schools open, so there were alternatives on the table.”
Staying on topic, I liked this from the Conservative Woman site in Britain, with perhaps the best argument against child vaccination: “The sooner most of us are exposed to it, ideally in childhood, the sooner it will cease to be a major problem..”
All non-corrupted scientific commentators have known from the very start that this pandemic only ends one way: SARS-CoV-2 is going to become an endemic virus. It will always be with us. The sooner most of us are exposed to it, ideally in childhood, the sooner it will cease to be a major problem. High-risk individuals can choose to take a vaccine. Ivermectin and vitamin D can be used to prevent infection and treat confirmed cases. As we have seen, the argument that children must take vaccines so that we can achieve herd immunity is utterly false. Only those completely ignorant of virology and immunology would even attempt to make it. That brings us back to the original argument for vaccinating children against Covid: to protect them from the severe disease.
If this is the only reason to vaccinate children, there is only one calculation that parents should make: Is the risk from Covid greater than the risk from the vaccine? The present Covid vaccines being administered in the West are based on experimental technologies that are being used under emergency use authorisations (EUAs). Full safety studies will not be completed until 2023. The Covid vaccines were all created in the last year and we have no medium-term or long-term data on them. We don’t know if they will have an effect on children’s reproductive organs and fertility. We don’t know if they will produce auto-immune diseases. And we don’t know if they will lead to ADE (antibody-dependent enhancement) upon re-exposure to the virus (causing more severe illness).
We do know that the vaccines produce a range of cardiovascular and neurological events including strokes, myocarditis, pericarditis and paralysis in a significant number of people. In the small US state of Connecticut at least 18 children and young adults have come down with myocarditis, an extremely serious and sometimes fatal condition involving inflammation of the heart muscle (and they’ve only just started vaccinating children there). The Israel Ministry of Health has reported that the incidence of myocarditis for vaccine recipients is between 1 in 3,000 and 1 in 6,000 in young men.
In Canada (population 38 million) only 11 children have died from Covid since the start of the pandemic. In the UK (pop 68 million) 32 children have died. It is nearly certain that all of them had one or more severe comorbidities. The fact is, most children brush off Covid without even knowing they’ve had it. For all intents and purposes, Covid poses zero risk to healthy children.
A number of school leaders have swung into action following the approval of the vaccination of children against Covid (a disease which almost all children aren’t at risk from) using the Pfizer vaccine (trials of which only included 1,134 children). It wasn’t very long ago that the establishment line was: if you don’t get a Covid vaccine, you are selfish. Even the Queen (disappointingly) joined in with this line [..]. But now, adult advisers to the Government suggest that children should be vaccinated not to protect children but to protect…themselves. Professor Anthony Harnden, the Deputy Chairman of the Government’s Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, says:
‘I think the vast majority of benefit won’t be to children, it will be an indirect benefit to adults in terms of preventing transmission and protecting adults who haven’t been immunised, for whatever reason haven’t responded to the vaccine and therefore that presents quite a lot of ethical dilemmas as to whether you should vaccinate children to protect adults.’ He notes that children themselves are ‘in the main’ not at risk from Covid. Over half of the adult population has been fully vaccinated (with seventy-five per cent having received at least one dose of a vaccine) and Covid deaths, while still exaggerated, have flattened. There is no reason to vaccinate most children and, given the potential side effects, many not to do so. If the Government bottles it on the vaccination of children, it is they who are being selfish.
The reactions to the virus are many times more dangerous than the virus itself. Because the reactions have been amplified by fear. Time to shake it off. But for that to happen, we need politics and media to change, because they’re doing the amplifying. Problem is, fear sells.
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It is well known that the endless US war on terror was overtly launched following the mass murders of September 11, 2001 and the linked anthrax attacks. The invasion of Afghanistan and the Patriot Act were immediately justified by those insider murders, and subsequently the wars against Iraq, Libya, Syria, etc. So too the terrorizing of the American people with constant fear-mongering about imminent Islamic terrorist attacks from abroad that never came. It is less well known that the executive director of the U.S. cover story – the fictional 9/11 Commission Report – was Philip Zelikow, who controlled and shaped the report from start to finish.
It is even less well known that Zelikow, a professor at the University of Virginia, was closely associated with Condoleezza Rice, George W. Bush, Dickey Cheney, Paul Wolfowitz, Brent Scowcroft, et al. and had served in various key intelligence positions in both the George H. W. Bush and George W. Bush administrations. In 2011 President Obama named him to his President’s Intelligence Advisory Board as befits bi-partisan elite rule and coverup compensation across political parties. Perhaps it’s unknown or just forgotten that The Family Steering Committee for the 9/11 Commission repeatedly called for Zelikow’s removal, claiming that his appointment made a farce of the claim that the Commission was independent. Zelikow said that for the Commission to consider alternative theories to the government’s claims about Osama bin Laden was akin to whacking moles.
This is the man, who at the request of his colleague Condoleezza Rice, became the primary author of (NSS 2002) The National Security Strategy of the United States of America, that declared that the U.S. would no longer abide by international law but was adopting a policy of preemptive war, as declared by George W. Bush at West Point in June 2002. This was used as justification for the attack on Iraq in 2003 and was a rejection of the charter of the United Nations. So, based on Zelikow’s work creating a magic mountain of deception while disregarding so-called molehills, we have had twenty years of American terror wars around the world in which U.S. forces have murdered millions of innocent people. Wars that will be continuing for years to come despite rhetoric to the contrary. The rhetoric is simply propaganda to cover up the increasingly technological and space-based nature of these wars and the use of mercenaries and special forces.
Simultaneously, in a quasi-volte-face, the Biden administration has directed its resources inward toward domestic “terrorists”: that is, anyone who disagrees with its policies. This is especially aimed at those who question the COVID-19 story. Now Zelikow has been named to head a COVID Commission Planning Group based at the University of Virginia that is said to prepare the way for a National COVID Commission. The group is funded by the Schmidt Futures, the Skoll Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation and Stand Together, with more expected to join in.
Can you imagine what master propagandist Edward Bernays would have done with access to today’s mainstream media conglomerate combined with the global surveillance infrastructure of Big Tech? And you really think that’s not happening now—with another century of psychological, neurological, and technological research under their belts? The present ability to curate reality and coerce obedience is unprecedented, far beyond what Orwell envisioned in 1984, Bradbury in Fahrenheit 451, Huxley in Brave New World, and Burgess in A Clockwork Orange. A textbook example of Problem Reaction Solution, the current tsunami of worldwide hysteria is the latest and potentially most threatening example of mass control in history.
The recipe is simple. Take a naturally occurring phenomenon, say a seasonal virus, and exaggerate its threat far beyond every imagining—despite exhaustive evidence to the contrary. Suppress, silence, ostracize, and demonize every individual who dares present facts that expose the false mono-narrative. Whip up a witches’ brew of anger, envy, and, most importantly, fear, escalating emotions to a boil so as to short-circuit our faculties of reason and logic. Isolate us from one another, supplant real-world interactions with virtual feuds, label nonconformists as a threat to the group, and pump the public with a disinformation campaign designed to confuse and atomize. In essence, foster a cultlike mentality that shuts down thought to guarantee assent.
Cultivate and wield our cognitive biases—especially ingroup bias, conformity bias, and authority bias—against us in a comprehensive divide-and-conquer policy that keeps us too busy squabbling amongst each other to recognize and unite against those corralling us into a Matrix-like collective delusion that enables the powerful to extract our resources for their own gain. This ideological mass psychosis is religion—not science. If this were about science, the Media–Pharmaceutical–Big-Tech complex would not be memory-holing every dissenting voice, vilifying every thought criminal, and censoring every legitimate inquiry in quest of the truth.
[..] Modest words for a man whose “useful contribution to society” has given hope to the 3.9m people diagnosed with the condition in the UK and who has shown doctors a new way to fight a disease which causes 185 amputations and 700 premature deaths every week. Now, he wants to go one step further and share everything he has learned directly with the public, in a new book, Your Simple Guide to Reversing Type 2 Diabetes. It’s a 153-page paperback that takes you through the latest research on how the disease develops and explains why rapid weight loss can be so effective at reversing the condition in the early stages – which usually means during the first six years of a diagnosis.
“If people really do want to make it happen, then in the first few years of diagnosis, it’s almost universal that their health can be returned to normal,” says Taylor, who is professor of medicine and metabolism at Newcastle University. In one study, he found that nine out of 10 people with “early” type 2 diabetes were cured after losing more than 2 1/2 st (15kg). The book also explains who is at greatest risk and why some people who have a “normal” Body Mass Index (BMI) develop the disease, when many people who are more overweight – or even obese – do not. Taylor’s “Newcastle” weight loss programme is a clinically proven method of reversing early type 2 diabetes and his approach is currently being rolled out to people with the condition by the NHS. It involves cutting your calorie intake to 700-800 calories a day.
In the book, he explains how the people in his programme managed to do this – typically by consuming only slimming meal shakes and non-starchy vegetables, plus one cup of tea or coffee each day with skimmed milk – lost a life-changing amount of weight in just eight weeks. And how you can do the same, safely, at home. [..] One of Taylor’s most important new discoveries is that everyone has their own fat threshold: an individual level of tolerance for levels of fat in the body. “It’s a personal thing. It’s nothing to do with the sort of information that’s often provided about obesity, which is about average BMI and what the population is doing. The bottom line is, a person will develop type 2 diabetes when they’ve become too heavy for their own body. It doesn’t matter if their BMI is within the ‘normal’ range. They’ve crossed their personal threshold and become unhealthy.”
He is currently in the middle of research to find out whether there’s any way of discovering, via a blood test, when people are heading into this dangerous territory and their fat cells are putting out what he describes as “distress signals”. What we do know already is that our bodies start to have trouble controlling blood sugar when fat can no longer be stored safely under the skin and it spills over into the liver and then the pancreas. If these organs get clogged with fat, they stop functioning properly and that is when you develop type 2 diabetes.
A diagnostic test based on sequencing long-lived SARS-CoV-2–specific memory T cells provides a complement to antibody testing for determining previous exposure to SARS-CoV-2. Following last month’s US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Emergency Use Authorization for Adaptive Biotechnologies’ T-Detect COVID-19 test, routine T-cell testing has entered a new era. The Adaptive test involves laboratory-based next-generation sequencing to identify T cells that recognize SARS-CoV-2 antigens. The test is not intended for the diagnosis of active infection but is a complement to antibody tests used to confirm recent or previous infections. The lab-based procedure, which has a seven- to ten-day turnaround time, is now authorized for use on samples taken from individuals at least 15 days after the onset of symptoms.
Increasing interest is focused on the role of T-cell immunity in fighting SARS-CoV-2 infection and in providing resistance to re-infection. A new analysis of T cells from people who recovered from COVID-19 has confirmed that they remain active against three of the new SARS-CoV-2 variants of concern: B1.1.7, B.351 and B.1.1.248. The study, conducted by a team from the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and Singapore-based biotech company ImmunoScape, will further boost confidence that the efficacy of vaccines developed against the original pandemic strain will not be overly compromised as these new variants—and others—spread more widely.
Until now, researchers have mostly relied on the use of lateral flow assay or enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) tests for SARS-CoV-2 antibodies to determine whether a person has been exposed to the virus. Understanding the neutralizing antibody response has been considered central to establishing protection against the virus. “It’s easy to test,” says Andrew Redd of NIAID, who led the recent study. Although critical, antibodies are part of a larger and incompletely understood set of humoral and cellular immune responses, which has received little attention. These include additional antibody functions, such as antibody-dependent cellular cytotoxicity, complement activation and phagocyte recruitment. Unravelling their contribution to SARS-CoV-2 immunity is an ongoing challenge. “There are assays to do that, it’s just complicated to do,” says Redd.
The same can be said for assaying T-cell-mediated immunity. The NIAID study relied on a complex laboratory test to identify T-cell epitopes specific to SARS-CoV-2, employing a combination of mass cytometry and combinatorial staining of peptide–major histocompatibility complex (MHC)-bound tetramers. The complexity of the assay and data generated necessarily confine the assay to use in specialist laboratories. “The data that it generates are massive. The analysis side of it is a big lift,” Redd says.
According to the UK Government’s figures, more than 1,100 people have died due to an adverse effect caused by one of the vaccines currently being rolled out via Emergency Use Authorisation. But Dr Bhakdi reveals that worse is yet to come, with manufacturers, he says, creating a false sense of security. “It’s so easy to manipulate the nano-particles,” he said. “All you need to do is take out one component, one lipid, and the vaccine will not be taken up by the cells any more. And then you have no side-effects. And you will have a vaccine that is well-tolerated. “That is what’s happening now with the mRNA vaccines, so the AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson and Sputnik will be removed from the market. So there will be a monopoly of the mRNA vaccines, which are being backed by Bill Gates.
“This plan was conceived years ago. Once this vaccine gets legally, fully approved, not approved for emergency use, but fully approved, no more risk analysis needs to be done. “Pfizer are going to submit an application for this in June. And the authorities have already released underground information that the approval will probably be given in October. When this happens, it means that every subsequent vaccine is automatically approved. They have to sign no more application, there will be no more trials, no more risk-benefit analysis. No more notification of side effects. “It’s such a nightmare. They can say, ‘well the care homes are overcrowded. India and South Africa…
“You know that with each subsequent vaccine the chances rise that you are going to kill people. That’s why they are starting to vaccinate children – they are going to show that the vaccine is tolerated by children – then they are going to use this wherever they want to. “Once that has come through, these guys have a free hand to do whatever they want, wherever they want. And no one can do anything about it. It’s so horrible. “How can people be so evil? How can people be so ignorant? It’s that combination of evil and ignorance that is making the world a living hell. And the only people who can do anything about it is us because we have to get the world around us to stand up and realise that they are being led to a living hell.
“It’s a devilish plan, satanic. But the very, very small chance we have is that they made a mistake, which was they thought that this vaccination programme would go through smoothly, as they were not aware that the adverse effects would be so severe and so widespread. “This is where they may trip if we can force them to turn back on the vaccination programme. Now there have been legal charges brought against the EU, for nullification against all the vaccines.”
Early one morning, Linsey Marr tiptoed to her dining room table, slipped on a headset, and fired up Zoom. On her computer screen, dozens of familiar faces began to appear. She also saw a few people she didn’t know, including Maria Van Kerkhove, the World Health Organization’s technical lead for Covid-19, and other expert advisers to the WHO. It was just past 1 pm Geneva time on April 3, 2020, but in Blacksburg, Virginia, where Marr lives with her husband and two children, dawn was just beginning to break.
Marr is an aerosol scientist at Virginia Tech and one of the few in the world who also studies infectious diseases. To her, the new coronavirus looked as if it could hang in the air, infecting anyone who breathed in enough of it. For people indoors, that posed a considerable risk. But the WHO didn’t seem to have caught on. Just days before, the organization had tweeted “FACT: #COVID19 is NOT airborne.” That’s why Marr was skipping her usual morning workout to join 35 other aerosol scientists. They were trying to warn the WHO it was making a big mistake.
Over Zoom, they laid out the case. They ticked through a growing list of superspreading events in restaurants, call centers, cruise ships, and a choir rehearsal, instances where people got sick even when they were across the room from a contagious person. The incidents contradicted the WHO’s main safety guidelines of keeping 3 to 6 feet of distance between people and frequent handwashing. If SARS-CoV-2 traveled only in large droplets that immediately fell to the ground, as the WHO was saying, then wouldn’t the distancing and the handwashing have prevented such outbreaks? Infectious air was the more likely culprit, they argued. But the WHO’s experts appeared to be unmoved. If they were going to call Covid-19 airborne, they wanted more direct evidence—proof, which could take months to gather, that the virus was abundant in the air. Meanwhile, thousands of people were falling ill every day.
On the video call, tensions rose. At one point, Lidia Morawska, a revered atmospheric physicist who had arranged the meeting, tried to explain how far infectious particles of different sizes could potentially travel. One of the WHO experts abruptly cut her off, telling her she was wrong, Marr recalls. His rudeness shocked her. “You just don’t argue with Lidia about physics,” she says.
Morawska had spent more than two decades advising a different branch of the WHO on the impacts of air pollution. When it came to flecks of soot and ash belched out by smokestacks and tailpipes, the organization readily accepted the physics she was describing—that particles of many sizes can hang aloft, travel far, and be inhaled. Now, though, the WHO’s advisers seemed to be saying those same laws didn’t apply to virus-laced respiratory particles. To them, the word airborne only applied to particles smaller than 5 microns. Trapped in their group-specific jargon, the two camps on Zoom literally couldn’t understand one another.
Does it make sense, for a nation founded on the notion of individual liberty, equality under the law, and personal property rights, to allow a government agency to manipulate the value of the currency used by its citizens? Would it be better to have a stable monetary foundation to facilitate free-market outcomes, rather than empower the Federal Reserve to distort interest rates and dilute dollars in the service of government policy? It’s not as if we haven’t been here before. The question of whether rules-based monetary stability historically delivers better economic results in terms of increasing middle-class incomes than relying on the discretionary judgment of central bankers has been wholly analyzed and resolved.
In the 2015 Economic Report of the President issued under the Obama administration, a special section describes the period from 1948 to 1973 as the “Age of Shared Growth”—characterized by accelerating labor productivity, falling income inequality, and increased workforce participation. The report makes little mention of the fact that this period of remarkable growth, which increased living standards across all income levels, coincided with the existence of the Bretton Woods international monetary system under which the U.S. dollar was convertible into gold at a fixed price. The report does posit that if post-1973 productivity growth had continued at its pace from those previous 25 years, “incomes would have been 58% higher in 2013” and “the median household would have had an additional $30,000 in income.”
All of which should give pause to those who belittle the uneasiness felt by conservatives who fear that compromising monetary integrity not only violates founding principles but also economic rationality. And it’s not just conservatives per se, but rather an increasingly larger segment of the population expressing concerns about the wisdom of government officials and the correctness of government policies.
After his status-quo-shattering appearance on CNBC this week, during which he warned that “Fed policy is endangering the dollar’s reserve status,” billionaire fund manager Stan Druckenmiller spoke to The USC Marshall Center for Investment Studies’ Student Investment Fund Annual Meeting via Zoom, and shocked the on-lookers with his frank assessment of our current perceptions and realities. After The Bank of Canada sheepishly admitted this week that “some of the monetary policy tools it is using to address the COVID-19 pandemic, such as quantitative easing (QE), could widen wealth inequality,” Druckenmiller drops the proverbial hammer on all the hedged-speak (“could”), and blasts that
“I don’t think there has been a greater engine of inequality than the Federal Reserve Bank of the United States… so hearing the Chairman [Powell] talking about visiting homeless shelters is very rich indeed…” The outspoken fund manager went on to note that “everyone wealthy that I know is making fortunes” because “this guy [Powell] is printing money like there’s no tomorrow” adding that the kids is Harlem are not benefitting from money-printing but wealthy people are, exclaiming that “…for the life of me I can’t understand why the left is so excited about money-printing when all the data shows that the people who benefit from money-printing are rich people.”
“The odds-on bet is that we’re going to have inflation,” he continues: “and inflation is going to hurt poor people, again, a lot more than rich people.” How does this all end? “The asset bubble which [Powell] is blowing up into unbelievable proportions busts before the inflation ever really manifests itself, that’s what happened in the housing bubble in 08/09. We never really got to the inflation because the asset bubble burst… not dis-similar to what happened in 1929.” And Druck reminds us all, “there is no one, no group, that will be hurt more by a bust than the poor… they will be first in line to get screwed.”
It’s a lot of money for a stock-trading app that’s supposedly free. Robinhood is slated to launch an initial public offering before summer’s end that could value the Silicon Valley-based company at $40 billion or more, people close to the underwriting group say. That would make it among the biggest deals of the year – and certainly the most anticipated as the day-trading app became a cultural phenom during the pandemic. A blowout IPO would be remarkable for a company created only in 2013 and which has survived its share of controversies. Last summer, I warned that Robinhood was luring in amateurs stuck at home during the COVID lockdowns who took on day trading as a sport. They would eventually lose their shirts trading stocks on its free and easy-to-use platform, and regulators would pounce.
The party, I predicted, wouldn’t end well and it almost didn’t. Amateur traders are the lifeblood of Robinhood and its user growth, and they lost lots of money on the wrong side of bets. Then came January’s meme – stock controversy, where clearing problems stymied trading of some high-volume stocks on the app, angering customers. The company s business model came under scrutiny. Congress held hearings about the episode following the wild swings in various stocks that traded over the platform, and the IPO that was planned for March was pushed off indefinitely. But for all the noise, the clients just kept coming – and the IPO is back on. The reason is simple, company execs tell me: Robinhood is printing money. Despite the hiccups, Robinhood added some 6 million additional new customers for its crypto platform alone in the first two months of the year.
Now the app’s explosive user growth has investors clamoring for a piece of the action, people close to the deal say. And mind you, underwriters and company officials are quietly calculating their $40 billion valuation for a product that founder Vlad Tenev essentially conjured up in his dorm room.
A syndicate of port workers in the Italian city of Livorno in Tuscany on Friday protested a weapons and explosives shipment after discovering it was destined for the Israeli port of Ashdod. “The port of Livorno will not be an accomplice in the massacre of the Palestinian people,” said L’Unione Sindacale di Base (USB). The USB added that the ship contained “weapons and explosives that will serve to kill the Palestinian population, already hit by a severe attack this very night, which caused hundreds of civilian victims, including many children”. A report by The Weapon Watch, a Genoa-based NGO that monitors arms shipments in European and Meditteranean ports, informed the syndicate of the destination of the ship and its contents. The NGO urged the Italian government to consider whether it was “suspending some or all Italian military exports to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict areas.”
“The Union on Saturday will also be in the square in Livorno in solidarity with the Palestinian population and to ask for an immediate stop to the bombings on Gaza and a stop to the ‘expropriations’ Palestinian homes that have lived under military occupation for years,” the USB said in a statement. Although the shipment eventually embarked its journey to Naples, as most other port workers continued to load the ship, other Italian workers’ groups have called for increased coordination between port workers to prevent shipment of weapons that could be used to bomb Gaza. Protests took place in various Italian cities this week, following Israeli forces’ attacks against Palestinians in Jerusalem and its escalation on the blockaded Palestinian Gaza Strip.
Welcome to the age of fear. Nothing is more corrosive of the democratic impulse than fear. Left unaddressed, it festers, eating away at our confidence and empathy. We are now firmly in a time of fear – not only of the virus, but of each other. Fear destroys solidarity. Fear forces us to turn inwards to protect ourselves and our loved ones. Fear refuses to understand or identify with the concerns of others. In fear societies, basic rights become a luxury. They are viewed as a threat, as recklessness, as a distraction that cannot be afforded in this moment of crisis. Once fear takes hold, populations risk agreeing to hand back rights, won over decades or centuries, that were the sole, meagre limit on the power of elites to ransack the common wealth. In calculations based on fear, freedoms must make way for other priorities: being responsible, keeping safe, averting danger.
Worse, rights are surrendered with our consent because we are persuaded that the rights themselves are a threat to social solidarity, to security, to our health. It is therefore far from surprising that the UK’s draconian new Police and Crime Bill – concentrating yet more powers in the police – has arrived at this moment. It means that the police can prevent non-violent protest that is likely to be too noisy or might create “unease” in bystanders. Protesters risk being charged with a crime if they cause “nuisance” or set up protest encampments in public places, as the Occupy movement did a decade ago. And damaging memorials – totems especially prized in a time of fear for their power to ward off danger – could land protesters, like those who toppled a statue to notorious slave trader Edward Colston in Bristol last summer, a 10-year jail sentence.
In other words, this is a bill designed to outlaw the right to conduct any demonstration beyond the most feeble and ineffective kind. It makes permanent current, supposedly extraordinary limitations on protest that were designed, or so it was said, to protect the public from the immediate threat of disease. Protest that demands meaningful change is always noisy and disruptive. Would the suffragettes have won women the vote without causing inconvenience and without offending vested interests that wanted them silent? What constitutes too much noise or public nuisance? In a time of permanent pandemic, it is whatever detracts from the all-consuming effort to extinguish our fear and insecurity. When we are afraid, why should the police not be able to snatch someone off the street for causing “unease”?
The UK bill is far from unusual. Similar legislation – against noisy, inconvenient and disruptive protest – is being passed in states across the United States. Just as free speech is being shut down on the grounds that we must not offend, so protest is being shut down on the grounds that we must not disturb.
A £5,000 fine for anyone in England trying to travel abroad without good reason is due to come into force next week as part of new coronavirus laws. The penalty is included in legislation that will be voted on by MPs on Thursday. Foreign holidays are currently not allowed under the “stay at home” rule which ends on Monday. But then the ban on leaving the UK at this time will become a specific law backed up by the threat of the fine. Under the current plan for easing restrictions, the earliest date people in England could go abroad for a holiday would be 17 May. However, another surge in Covid cases in continental Europe, as well as the slow rollout of vaccines across Europe, has cast doubt on the resumption of foreign travel.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said restrictions on travelling abroad were necessary to guard against the importation of large numbers of cases and new variants which might put the vaccine rollout at risk. Shadow Cabinet Office minister Rachel Reeves told BBC Breakfast that Labour supported measures to keep the UK’s borders secure and avoid the importation of new variants but said the government’s “slowness to react” had contributed to the country’s high death rate. Prime Minister Boris Johnson warned on Monday the UK should be “under no illusion” that it will feel the effects of a rising number of cases on the continent. One of his ministers, Lord Bethell, said England might put “all our European neighbours” on the “red list” of countries. However, Mr Hancock told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme there were no plans to do this.
And so we come to March 23rd, and lockdown’s first birthday. Or, as we call it here, the longest two weeks in history. 1 year. 12 calendar months. 365 increasingly gruelling days. It’s a long time since “2 weeks to flatten the curve”, became an obvious lie. Sometime in July it turned into a sick joke. The curve was flattened, the NHS protected and the clapping was hearty and meaningful. …and none of it made any difference. This was not a sacrifice for the “greater good”. It was not a hard decision with arguments on both sides. It was not a risk-benefit scenario. The “risks” were in fact certainties, and the “benefits” entirely fictional.Because Lockdowns don’t work. It’s really important to remember that.
Even if you subscribe to the belief that “Sars-Cov-2” is a unique discrete entity (which is far from proven), or that it is incredibly dangerous (which is demonstrably untrue), the lockdown has not worked to, in any way, limit this supposed threat. Lockdowns. Don’t. Work. They don’t make any difference, the curves don’t flatten and the R0 number doesn’t drop and the lives aren’t saved (quite the opposite, as we’ve all seen). Just look at the graphs. This one, comparing “Covid deaths” in the UK (lockdown) and Sweden (no lockdown):
Or this one, comparing “Covid deaths” in California (lockdown) and Florida (no lockdown):
From Belarus to Sweden to Florida to Nicaragua to Tanzania, the evidence is clear. “Covid”, whatever that means in real terms, is not impacted by lockdowns. Putting the entire population under house arrest doesn’t benefit public health. In fact, it’s (rather predictably) incredibly counter-productive. The damage done by shuttering businesses, limiting access to healthcare, postponing treatments and diagnoses, postponed surgeries, increasing depression, soaring unemployment and mass poverty has been discussed to death. The scale of the impact cannot be overstated.
Dr David Nabarro, World Health Organization special envoy for Covid-19, said this of lockdowns back in October: “We in the World Health Organization do not advocate lockdowns as the primary means of control of the virus[…]just look at what’s happened to the tourism industry…look what’s happening to small-holding farmers[…]it seems we may have a doubling of world poverty by next year. We may well have at least a doubling of child malnutrition […] This is a terrible, ghastly global catastrophe.”
Development of a novel LAMP device which is cheap, reusable, and can be produced in large amounts in a short period of time. The device was designed such not to require chemical exothermic reactions, have limited waste produced and with a minimum cost of the device as a whole. The device was tested for the detection of SARS-CoV2 RNA.
Once bustling with life, Beirut’s famed Gemmayze Street is now deserted. Lined with damaged homes, collapsed buildings and closed businesses, the residential and commercial hub was one of the city’s most vibrant destinations – but not any more. “It’s like a nightmare. We’ve never seen anything like this before,” said Charbel Bassil, owner of renowned Le Chef restaurant, on the first day of reopening after a nationwide lockdown. One of Beirut’s oldest and most popular restaurants, Le Chef, in in Gemmayze, is one of many businesses struggling to stay afloat under the weight of Lebanon’s compounding crises. The family business reopened its doors on March 22, as per the government’s lockdown strategy, but customers were hardly pouring in.
The modest space, which was often full to the brim for lunchtime, now welcomed only three tables after a full day of work, or about 10 customers. The burst of vigor and energy that characterised the dining experience at Le Chef was replaced by a sense of moping and melancholy. “We’re doing our best to keep going, but everything is a mess,” Mr Bassil told The National. Le Chef , founded in 1967, weathered civil wars and crises, but none harmed trade like Lebanon’s current events. “This is our family business. I’ve been working here since I was a child, but nothing we lived through was as bad as this,” Mr Bassil said. After almost losing the restaurant in the Beirut blast, Le Chef was able to rebuild thanks to donations, $5,000 of which came from the actor Russell Crowe.
But what the port explosion could not destroy, the economic crisis shattered. “We can’t work in this crisis. Suppliers won’t give us goods because of the market rate and we don’t know how to price our dishes,” Mr Bassil told The National. “We’re a restaurant for the people. We want to serve high-quality food for affordable prices.” Lebanon’s currency lost more than 80 per cent of its value since the beginning of the economic crisis, declared one of the worst in the country’s history. In one year, the Lebanese pound, which once traded at 1,500 to the US dollar, slumped to 15,000 on the parallel market. The minimum wage shrank from $450 to an average of $50, leaving people with insufficient salaries to cover rising living costs.
[..] Despite the opportunity to be back in business, Lebanon’s hospitality sector is wary about reopening because operational costs now outweigh profits. Fewer than 1,000 restaurants and cafes are expected to reopen this week, said Aref Saade, treasurer at the Syndicate of Owners of Restaurants, Cafes, Night-Clubs and Pastries. Prior to the crisis, Lebanon had about 8,500 tourist institutions in business. The number decreased to 4,500 when Covid-19 struck, and is anticipated to sink below 1,000 due to the soaring and unstable currency exchange rate. “Businesses are refraining from reopening – it’s just not worth it,” Mr Saade told The National.
A Yale University professor and renowned cancer researcher has pored over the COVID-19 literature and treated several dozen patients. He can remain silent no longer. Dr. Alessandro Santin, a practicing oncologist and scientist who runs a large laboratory at Yale, believes firmly that ivermectin could vastly cut suffering from COVID-19. Santin joins a growing group of doctors committed to using the safe, generic drug both as an early home treatment to prevent hospitalization and alongside inpatient treatments like steroids and oxygen. “The bottom line is that ivermectin works. I’ve seen that in my patients as well as treating my own family in Italy,” Santin said in an interview, referring to his father, 88, who recently suffered a serious bout of COVID. “We must find a way to administer it on a large scale to a lot of people.”
Santin’s statements carry the prestige of a leadership position at Yale School of Medicine and the gravitas of a top uterine cancer researcher, who has authored more than 250 science journal articles and pioneered treatment, used worldwide, for the most aggressive form of uterine cancer. At Yale, he is an OB/GYN professor, team leader in gynecologic oncology at the Smilow Comprehensive Cancer Center, and co-chief of gynecologic oncology. When COVID came along, Santin began reading about how best he might help his cancer patients, 10 to 20 percent of whom were coming in infected with COVID. He began using ivermectin after the National Institutes of Health changed its advisory in January to allow the drug’s use outside of COVID trials. Santin’s endorsement is not only important but broad.
He said he has seen ivermectin work at every stage of COVID — preventing it, eliminating early infection, quelling the destructive cytokine storm in late infection, and helping about a dozen patients so far who suffered months after COVID. One of them is an athlete and mother of two, 39, who had been disabled by post-COVID chest pain, shortness of breath and fatigue; she confirmed in an email to me her joy at being able to walk up a hill again and breathing better within 72 hours of her first dose. “When you have people that can’t breathe for five, six, eight, nine months and they tried multiple drugs and supplements with no success, and you give them ivermectin,” Dr. Santin said of long-haul patients, “and you see that they start immediately feeling better, this is not placebo. This is real.”
[..] Beyond his outpatients, Santin has treated family members and friends infected with COVID in both his home community in Connecticut and in his native Italy via telemedicine. There, he prescribed ivermectin to more than 15 families, in which parents, children or others had became infected; the goal was both to treat early and prevent severe COVID, as studies have shown ivermectin does. “I have not a single one that right now had to go to the hospital to receive oxygen,” he said. “I have no doubt ivermectin saved my 88-year-old father’s life.” His father survived COVID despite high blood pressure, cardiac disease that led previously to seven stents and open heart surgery, and lung problems. “If I can save you,” he said referring to his father, “I can tell you, I save anybody.”
Instead of easing concepts, the Chancellor and Prime Minister present the extension and tightening of the lockdown. The citizens have to pay for what the government has missed for months. Chancellor Angela Merkel and the Prime Minister wrestled with each other for twelve hours on Tuesday. Anyone who expected a big hit after this nightly marathon was disappointed: The result of the conference is shameful. Not only that the tentative easing of the corona measures has been discarded. Germany should also go into a tough lockdown at Easter. “We thought again today,” said the Chancellor in the early hours of the morning. In order to “break through” the third corona wave a little bit, April 1st and 3rd at Easter will be “one-off days of rest”, as “extended rest time”.
Rethought? With these resolutions, Germany’s government surrenders to the principles of reason. If you wanted to avoid hamster purchases and crowds in supermarkets until now, the opposite is now the case: the closing of supermarkets over Easter is forcing citizens to replenish their supplies. You don’t need a crystal ball to predict the resulting overcrowding of the shops on Holy Saturday. Is that still wanton or already deliberate bad planning? Either way, it lacks any logic. Religious freedom could also be a victim of the comfortably formulated “extended rest period at Easter” – for all those for whom five months of rest are not enough – there should be no Easter services with an audience in attendance, according to the will of the conference.
So while in the past few days 700 Hansa Rostock football fans were allowed to go to the stadium with a negative quick test and 1,000 classical music fans who also tested negative were allowed to go back to the Berlin Philharmonic, is it not possible to organize a gathering of Christians at their highest festival? Not if you leave it to this government, that’s for sure. Local politicians such as Tübingen’s Mayor Boris Palmer show that there is another way. With test stations he enables the citizens of his city to live a little and the business people to survive.
Single-family home sales dropped 18.2% from January to February, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, even as annualized sales remain much higher than pre-pandemic rates. 775,000 (at a seasonally adjusted annual rate) new single-family homes were sold in Feb. 2021—that’s a large drop from the 958,000 homes sold rate in Jan. 2021. Adjusted home sale rates are still far higher than they were pre-pandemic: 716,000 new single family homes were sold in Feb. 2020. The median price of new homes sold in February was $349,000 and the average sale price was $416,000. The National Association of Realtors said the decline from January was due to “historically-low inventory”, and said home sales are ahead of total 2020 sales. At the end of December 2020, there were just 1.07 million homes for sale—the lowest reported inventory since the Realtors association began tracking it in 1982.
Months of political tension and a wave of new sanctions have severed all links between the EU and Russia, Moscow’s top diplomat has said, adding that his country is ready to resume cooperation if Brussels decides it is interested. Speaking at a press conference alongside his Chinese counterpart on Tuesday, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said that currently, “there are no relations with the EU as an organization. The entire infrastructure of these relations has been destroyed by unilateral decisions made from Brussels.” Some individual European countries, he argued, are still seeking closer ties with Moscow, “guided by their national interests.” However, these are being fast outpaced by growing partnerships with China, Lavrov told journalists.
“If and when Europeans decide to eliminate these anomalies in contacts with their largest neighbor, of course, we will be ready to build up these relations based on equality,” the diplomat confirmed, “while in the East, in my opinion, we have a very intensive agenda, which is becoming more diverse every year.” In February, the foreign minister stated that Moscow’s relations with the bloc had taken a tumble in 2014, after the EU “blamed the Russian Federation for everything that is happening” in Ukraine following the Maidan. Since then, he argued, Brussels “has consistently destroyed all mechanisms without exception that existed on the basis of an agreement on partnership and cooperation.”
As part of a fiery broadcast interview, Lavrov warned that if the bloc’s leadership sought to impose sanctions on Russia that hit sensitive areas of the economy, Moscow could break off diplomatic contact altogether as a last resort. “Of course, we do not want to isolate ourselves from living in the world, but we must be ready for this. If you want peace, prepare for war,” he stressed. Earlier this month, the EU unveiled a new package of sanctions against four Russian officials it claimed were responsible for the detention of opposition figure Alexey Navalny, and “human rights violations” during the policing of subsequent protests held in his support. At the time, the Foreign Ministry in Moscow said the bloc had “missed yet another opportunity to review its … approach to relations with Russia.”
With a Russia-China-Iran triple bitch slap on the hegemon, we now have a brand new geopolitical chessboard… It took 18 years after Shock and Awe unleashed on Iraq for the Hegemon to be mercilessly shocked and awed by a virtually simultaneous, diplomatic Russia-China one-two. How this is a real game-changing moment cannot be emphasized enough; 21st century geopolitics will never be the same again. Yet it was the Hegemon who first crossed the diplomatic Rubicon. The handlers behind hologram Joe “I’ll do whatever you want me to do, Nance” Biden had whispered in his earpiece to brand Russian President Vladimir Putin as a soulless “killer” in the middle of a softball interview.
Not even at the height of the Cold War the superpowers resorted to ad hominem attacks. The result of such an astonishing blunder was to regiment virtually the whole Russian population behind Putin – because that was perceived as an attack against the Russian state. Then came Putin’s cool, calm, collected – and quite diplomatic – response, which needs to be carefully pondered. These sharp as a dagger words are arguably the most devastatingly powerful five minutes in the history of post-truth international relations. In For Leviathan, it’s so cold in Alaska, we forecasted what could take place in the US-China 2+2 summit at a shabby hotel in Anchorage, with cheap bowls of instant noodles thrown in as extra bonus.
China’s millennial diplomatic protocol establishes that discussions start around common ground – which are then extolled as being more important than disagreements between negotiating parties. That’s at the heart of the concept of “no loss of face”. Only afterwards the parties discuss their differences. Yet it was totally predictable that a bunch of amateurish, tactless and clueless Americans would smash those basic diplomatic rules to show “strength” to their home crowd, distilling the proverbial litany on Taiwan, Hong Kong, South China Sea, “genocide” of Uighurs. Oh dear. There was not a single State Dept. hack with minimal knowledge of East Asia to warn the amateurs you don’t mess with the formidable head of the Foreign Affairs Commission at the CCP’s Central Committee, Yang Jiechi, with impunity.
Visibly startled, but controlling his exasperation, Yang Jiechi struck back. And the rhetorical shots were heard around the whole Global South. They had to include a basic lesson in manners: “If you want to deal with us properly, let’s have some mutual respect and do things the right way”. But what stood out was a stinging, concise diagnostic blending history and politics: “The United States is not qualified to talk to China in a condescending manner. The Chinese people will not accept that. It must be based on mutual respect to deal with China, and history will prove that those who seek to strangle China will suffer in the end.”
A lot has been written about H.R.1 — the so-called “For the People Act of 2021.” Former Vice President Mike Pence has opined on the bill. The Editorial Board of the Wall Street Journal sounded the alarm back in January. The editors of National Review come right out and call it a “partisan assault on American democracy.” H.R.1 purports to, “expand Americans’ access to the ballot box, reduce the influence of big money in politics, strengthen ethics rules for public servants, and implement other anti-corruption measures for the purpose of fortifying our democracy, and for other purposes.” The Bill is 791 pages long. Here are just a few of the more egregious federal power grabs in H.R.1 concocted against the 50 states that run elections under the U.S. Constitution:
• Ban voter ID laws and allow ballot harvesting; • Expand Election Day to “election season” by mandating mail-in ballots be counted 10 days after the election would normally be over; • Automatic voter registration of people who apply for unemployment, Medicaid, Obamacare and college, or who are coming out of prison. There is a lot more, and it gets worse. Substantially worse. There are First Amendment restrictions on political speech and on the support or opposition of a bill and/or a candidate. Remember: This is supposed to be “fortifying our democracy.” If you are interested in a “through the looking glass” annotated analysis of H.R.1 — then head over to the Brennan Center for Justice. They are happy to explain how those pesky constitutional rights can be whittled down to something more “fair” for everyone.
For example, the Brennan Center analysis confidently assures readers about how H.R.1 “affirms Congress’ power to protect the right to vote, regulate federal elections, and defend the democratic process in the United States.” It seeks to airbrush Article I, Section 4 — The Elections Clause — from history and practice. The Clause directs and empowers states to determine the “Times, Places, and Manner” of congressional elections. H.R.1 would federally strangle the Elections Clause. In order to find our way out, it is helpful to know how we got into this terrible predicament. The foundation for the madness of H.R.1 is legal positivism, a thesis, according to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, which states “that the existence and content of law depends on social facts and not on its merits.” H.R.1 is nearly 800 pages of meritless, militant, social engineering targeting the foundations of the U.S. Constitution, voting rights and political free speech — all dressed-up as being “for the people.”
Eight years ago, the Federal Trade Commission had the chance to face down Google — the giant of Silicon Valley whose power now alters the free flow of information at a global scale, distorts market access for businesses large and small, and changes the nature of independent thought in ways the world has never experienced. Instead, the FTC blinked — and blinked hard, choosing to close the investigation in early 2013. A remarkable leak to Politico of agency documents about the 2012 Google investigation reveals that, despite ample evidence of market distortions and threats to competition presented by the agency’s lawyers, the five commissioners of the FTC deferred instead to speculative claims by their economists.
Records and reporting about the 2012 investigation suggest the FTC did so while bending to political pressure from the Obama White House — which was, in turn, bending to political pressure from Google. William Kovacic, a former FTC chair under President George W. Bush, reviewed the more than 300 pages of documents leaked to Politico and concluded the agency overlooked “what many experts and regulators would consider clear antitrust violations,” calling the specificity of issues outlined “breathtaking.” In short, where we find ourselves today — with Google as the primary filter of the world’s information, engaging in a network of exclusionary contracts and anti-competitive conduct, and subject to an antitrust lawsuit led by the Department of Justice and joined by 48 state attorneys general — could have, and should have, been avoided.
That it wasn’t, however, provides key takeaways about where we are now with Big Tech, and, in particular, the method of enforcement of our antitrust laws, whose application has become too tightly wrapped around the axle of price, and captured by the speculative science of economic forecasting. It also reveals just how politicized antitrust enforcement has become — influenced by the siren song of internet exceptionalism and the powerful tug of Google, one of the world’s richest companies. Perhaps the most stunning takeaway in the 2012 documents is the extent to which the recommendations of the FTC’s lawyers sharply differed from those of the agency’s economists, on whose judgment the FTC commissioners ultimately relied in their decision to drop the investigation into Google.
The FTC’s antitrust attorneys concluded that Google was breaking the law by “banishing potential competitors” with a series of exclusionary contracts on mobile phones — much of which forms the basis for the lawsuit brought nearly a decade later by the Trump Department of Justice. The FTC’s economists, however, demurred, insisting that claims of Google’s market dominance were unfounded and would soon give way to competition. This required a markedly un-curious treatment of key facts.
Executives from leading oil companies, including ExxonMobil, BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, and the American Petroleum Institute (API), met virtually with Biden administration officials to discuss policies aimed at addressing the problem of man-made climate change. The Wall Street Journal reported that company leaders said that “they wanted to work with the administration and pledged support for policies that would make it more expensive to emit the gases that contribute to climate change.” In a statement issued after the virtual meeting, API CEO Mike Sommers declared, “We are committed to working with the White House to develop effective government policies that help meet the ambitions of the Paris Agreement and support a cleaner future.” The API is rumored to be considering coming out in support of carbon emissions pricing.
ExxonMobil and ConocoPhillips previously endorsed the bipartisan Climate Leadership Council’s (CLC) revenue neutral carbon tax and dividend proposal in which escalating taxes collected on oil and natural gas at the wellhead and on coal at the minehead would be entirely rebated in equal sums to each American as an annual payment. The CLC cites a 2018 study that finds that 70 percent of American households would receive more in dividend payments then they would pay in increased energy prices. Once the CLC’s carbon tax plan is adopted, all other regulations and subsidies aimed at reducing carbon dioxide emissions, such as automobile fuel efficiency and renewable portfolio standards, are supposed to be permanently repealed.
However, lots of climate activists oppose carbon taxes. Why? InsideClimateNews offered the example of Matto Mildenberger, a political scientist at the University of California, Santa Barbara, who has argued that carbon taxes make climate action unpopular because they front load the costs immediately onto consumers while the eventual benefits of lower temperatures, less fierce storms, and lower sea levels stretch into the future. As InsideClimateNews explained: “In the view of Mildenberger and others who’ve studied climate politics around the world, subsidies, regulation, and other policies that provide more immediate and visible benefits—like jobs creation—are a better way to jump-start climate policy, even if they cost more in the short run. That’s because they stimulate investment to help lower the cost of alternative energy, and at the same time help broaden political support for stronger climate policy. New actors with real investments they want to protect and advance will want more aggressive action, and politicians will respond.”
As you drive toward the Mississippi River’s headwaters from the east, the lakes that open up on either side of the highway are still white-blue with ice. The Mississippi River, however, is flowing. The open water — a trickle compared to the expanse it will become farther south — is a hopeful sign of the end of another long Minnesota winter, but it also has opponents of pipeline construction in the area on edge. Enbridge, the Canadian energy-transport firm, is planning to route its Line 3 pipeline under the Mississippi, near where it crosses Highway 40. In winter, a pollution-control rule bars drilling under the frozen waters. As the ice melts away, so do the restrictions. Those organizing against the project worry that Enbridge could begin tunneling under the Mississippi and other local rivers any day — and the pipeline-resistance movement is getting ready for it.
“They got a lot of money, they got a lot of equipment, but we got a lot of people,” said Anishinaabe water protector Winona LaDuke at an event last week with actor and activist Jane Fonda, which took place in front of the flowing Crow Wing River, not far from where Enbridge seeks to drill under its shores. “Spring is coming. Let’s be outdoorsy.” Enbridge’s Line 3 project began construction four months ago. It was designed to replace a decaying pipeline of the same name; however, a large portion of its 338-mile Minnesota section, which makes up most of the U.S. route, plows through new land and waters. The project would double Line 3’s capacity for carrying tar sands oil, one of the most carbon-intensive fossil fuels in the world, at a moment when a rapid shift away from fossil fuels has become critical to address the climate crisis.
The delicate waterway ecosystems through which the pipeline passes have become the central organizing point of the anti-pipeline, or water protector, movement. Hundreds of rivers, streams, and wetlands face the specter of a tar sands leak after the replacement Line 3 begins operating. And the particularly intensive form of drilling required to tunnel the pipeline under rivers holds its own set of risks during construction.
The Washington Post said recently: “The anti-vaccine movement is comparable to domestic terrorism, and must be treated that way”, while the Guardian had this:
“When it comes to shifting attitudes to vaccines, it is crucial to distinguish between public information campaigns that seek to educate the public and those that seek to persuade them,” said Philipp Schmid, a behavioural scientist researching vaccine scepticism at the University of Erfurt. “[..] if you don’t proactively tackle the problem at all, you end up playing catch-up with the anti-vaxxers. In a way, governments have to work on a parallel vaccine rollout – immunising the public against science denial.”
But WHO spokesperson Margaret Harris said: “it’s very important for people to understand that at the moment, all we know about the vaccines is that they will very effectively reduce your risk of severe disease. We haven’t seen any evidence yet indicating whether or not they stop transmission.” And Dr. David Martin claimed: It’s Gene Therapy, Not a Vaccine. One might add: It’s not science, it’s a sales job.
Now, I don’t know exactly who the WaPo refers to when they say “the anti-vaccine movement”, or that German guy with “the anti-vaxxers”, but it appears there is a widespread movement going on to promote mRNA vaccines, both by governments and by the press. And we’re not supposed to ask questions. Well, I’m sorry, but I make a living asking questions. And I think asking questions is not just everybody’s right, it’s an obligation. So don’t come at me with “domestic terrorism” or “anti-vaxxers”, a term that has nothing to do with the topic to begin with. Asking questions is not the same as being against something.
In essence the Pfizer and Moderna mRNA substances are a giant experiment, nothing else. If you can tell me what the logic is behind injecting -soon- hundreds of millions of people with something about which the WHO itself says: “we haven’t seen any evidence yet indicating whether or not they stop transmission,” try me. And how you get from there to issuing “vaccine passports” is as puzzling as the entire propaganda campaign. Who’s engaging in “science denial” here? In its core essence, an Emergency Use Authorization is unscientific.
A vaccine used to mean something that relied on -mostly- dead virus material to get your body to produce immunity “material”. What mRNA does -in this case – is force your body to produce an S1 spike protein, which is toxic to your body. Someone compared it to sticking a USB stick in your body, but one you can never take out anymore. Actually, it’s more like sticking such a USB stick into -almost- every single cell of your body. Forever.
Can it be successful? Maybe, but we have no idea. No research. No clue what mRNA does in the long term. There’s a lot of concern about what it might do to our immune systems. So lots of questions. But we’re not allowed to ask those questions, because then we’re domestic terrorists. Or maybe we can ask them, but only after getting inoculated.
There’s an eery similarity here to the banning of Huckleberry Finn, the Odyssey, and Dr. Seuss. We apparently cannot be trusted to form our own opinions anymore. And if we apply the same rules that got Mark Twain and Dr. Seuss banned, how on earth can the Bible remain politically acceptable? I’m sure they’ll get to that yet.
And the press help shape this new world, and Big Tech becomes Big Brother. There’s nothing either journalists or 20-something social media “guardians” like more than to tell you what you can see, hear, read or think, and I bet you never imagined that’s what George Orwell imagined. Or Mark Twain, for that matter. There is no real difference between banning books and burning them.
The way this is broadcast to us, is that the mRNA substances are safe, based on the fact that not too many people have died from being “vaccinated”. But not only are short-term effects not the main worry about them, there are already plenty headlines like this:
• Injuries Reported to CDC After COVID Vaccines Climb by 4,000 in One Week
• 34 Spontaneous Miscarriages, Stillbirths After COVID-19 Vaccination
• Danger of mRNA Vaccines To Elderly: 16 Deaths In Switzerland
• Norway warns of Covid-19 vaccine risk after 23 die
When you see that in Germany, France and Switzerland, half of care home workers don’t want to get vaccinated, perhaps it’s good to ask a question. Or how about this: “About 60% Of Nursing Home Staff Declined Covid Vaccines, Walgreens Exec Says”, about which Whitney Webb tweeted: “Just wondering if people consider the 60% of nursing home staffers and 1/3 of US troops declining the experimental COVID-19 vaccine to all be “crazy anti-vaxxer conspiracy theorists”
I apparently have to be afraid of what reading Huck Finn or the Odysseus will do to me, my brain, the brains of my children and neighbors. But I’m not afraid of that at all, I think the books will enrich their brains, as they have mine, and I’m confident they will be able to figure out what is just and right in the words they read, and what is not.
I’m not overly concerned about Covid19, but I do take a cautious approach. Which means taking vit. C&D and zinc, with ivermectin in my near future. But it doesn’t rule my life, certainly not as much as the lockdowns in Athens do. And frankly, I’m more afraid of sticking a genetic USB stick that generates untested genetic material in my body for the rest of my life, than I am of a virus that is unlikely to kill me.
By now we should be asking what being ruled by fear for a prolonged period of time does to the mindset of not just individuals, but of entire societies. Well, for one thing, it makes it much easier to censor people’s thoughts and actions, to shape their lives before they themselves do it. Be very afraid, roll up your sleeve, and don’t ask questions. And if you behave the way we tell you to, you may be able, in a year, or two, three, to return to the “old normal”.
Which unfortunately absolutely certainly will no longer exist once you get there. Your society will instead look like a warzone because its economy has been ravaged by fear. For one thing, if “they” allow stores, bars, restaurants to reopen this summer (doubtful), it may well be because they can no longer afford the emergency support for businesses and workers. The very first thing to happen then is mass lay-offs. Which will snowball into more businesses closing and more lay-offs.
It’s simply all gone on too long. For our economies, our societies and our minds. And if only to help us (re)cover, we should ask questions. It’s a obligation.
The Covid-19 pandemic has warped humanity’s mindset, turning fear into an intellectual value. Panic is now the smart choice, and those who reject it are considered dangerous barbarians. Sociologists, political theorists and other experts credit the ongoing coronavirus pandemic with forging countless changes in global society. Some are practical, some psychological. Some are temporary, while others will remain in evolving forms.
It’s difficult to deduce if the most troubling change we’re seeing really resulted from the viral crisis, or whether it had been waiting under the surface noise of daily life for full exposure by Covid-19. For the first time in human history, fear is now considered a sign of intellectual superiority, while the choice to resist panic is seen as stubborn foolishness.
[..] If you don’t stay locked in your bedroom in favor of going about your life – still masked, scrubbed and distanced – you’re a fool. Even worse, you’re a reckless fool who lacks compassion for the people you might infect. Regardless, the underlying theme is “crisis” and desperation in place of “challenge” and problem solving.
[..] Finally, if we allow a little old-time religion into the fray and check in on the Gospel writers, we’re told Jesus wept in fear the night before defeating its temptations and facing the crucifixion. Halfway around the world, the Buddha stated: “The whole secret of existence is to have no fear. Never fear what will become of you.” The current psychological zeitgeist would ridicule all of those figures or those authors and their protagonists as hasty and brainless for not running away and hiding from a threat indefinitely until it did its damage or decided to go away.
Those in the cult of alarm will say all of those references are fiction, and Covid is real life. I would motion over to Joseph Campbell and remind them that myths and their fables indicate cultural values. No one ridiculing their fellows for not wearing a mask while alone in their cars, dining outside of their own kitchens or even longing to get back to their workplaces has any part to play in any stirring touchstone story or in the real world events that inspire them.
Perhaps this new worship of trepidation is another symptom of the coronavirus that will pass. Until then, we live in hope for a vaccine against our 2020 affliction of dull, self-adulatory dread.
Fear is a healthy and useful natural reaction to events. It can save your life. But it’s not healthy for an individual to live in fear for a prolonged period of time, and fear should never take on a mass identity. Entire societies living in fear for a prolonged period of time are highly toxic to their citizens. In war time, societies are saved not by those who fear, but by the individuals who refuse to let fear lead their lives, and turn it into bravery. Because, as the Buddha says: “The whole secret of existence is to have no fear.”
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Vitamin D could be one of the tools that helps turn the tide in the fight against this terrible virus. It is cheap. It is safe. It has many other proven health benefits. There is no more time to waste. The time to act is now. pic.twitter.com/fyYcf68hJt
The National Guard is playing a leading role as the country confronts a domestic terrorism threat following the deadly insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. The Capitol is now crawling with more troops than in the United States’s main theaters of war in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria combined as the National Guard fortifies key areas around Washington, D.C., for President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration. The Secret Service is even referring to the new perimeter around the Capitol as the “Green Zone” — the same name used for secure zones in Iraq and Afghanistan’s capital cities. And it’s not just D.C. Amid FBI warnings of the potential for violence at all 50 state Capitols, governors in roughly a dozen states have called up their National Guards to bolster law enforcement.
But there are also worries the military is part of the problem, as several veterans have been arrested in connection with the Capitol riots. And at least one person arrested is a current member of the National Guard in Virginia. Following heavy criticism of the Guard’s response to last summer’s racial justice protests in the city, D.C. and Pentagon officials had originally sought to minimize its role in security surrounding the inauguration. In June, hundreds of guardsmen from around the country poured into the nation’s capital at President Trump’s request, despite objections from local authorities. A National Guard helicopter also hovered over protesters in the way the military does to insurgents overseas as a show of force, a move that drew widespread scrutiny and rebuke.
After that, as officials anticipated protests when Congress met to certify Biden’s electoral victory, D.C. officials requested and the Pentagon approved just 340 unarmed guardsmen to help the city with traffic control. Defense officials have said Capitol Police turned down offers of Guard help before the riots. That all changed after the Capitol siege. As of Friday, more than 7,000 guardsmen from across the country were in Washington, D.C., with up to 25,000 from all 50 states, three territories and D.C. expected to be in the city by Inauguration Day. Troops have erected 7-foot “non-scalable” fences around the Capitol and other nearby government buildings and set up checkpoints with military vehicles and concrete barriers on streets throughout the area.
Tweet: “The beauty of this claim is it’s perfect. If something happens, no matter how small, they can use it to target Trump supporters. And if nothing happens, they can credit their vigilance and… use it to target Trump supporters.”
U.S. defense officials say they are worried about an insider attack or other threat from service members involved in securing President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration, prompting the FBI to vet all of the 25,000 National Guard troops coming into Washington for the event. The massive undertaking reflects the extraordinary security concerns that have gripped Washington following the deadly Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol by pro-Trump rioters. And it underscores fears that some of the very people assigned to protect the city over the next several days could present a threat to the incoming president and other VIPs in attendance.
Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy told The Associated Press on Sunday that officials are conscious of the potential threat, and he warned commanders to be on the lookout for any problems within their ranks as the inauguration approaches. So far, however, he and other leaders say they have seen no evidence of any threats, and officials said the vetting hadn’t flagged any issues that they were aware of. ”We’re continually going through the process, and taking second, third looks at every one of the individuals assigned to this operation,” McCarthy said in an interview after he and other military leaders went through an exhaustive, three-hour security drill in preparation for Wednesday’s inauguration. He said Guard members are also getting training on how to identify potential insider threats.
About 25,000 members of the National Guard are streaming into Washington from across the country — at least two and a half times the number for previous inaugurals. And while the military routinely reviews service members for extremist connections, the FBI screening is in addition to any previous monitoring. Multiple officials said the process began as the first Guard troops began deploying to D.C. more than a week ago. And they said it is slated to be complete by Wednesday. Several officials discussed military planning on condition of anonymity. “The question is, is that all of them? Are there others?” said McCarthy. “We need to be conscious of it and we need to put all of the mechanisms in place to thoroughly vet these men and women who would support any operations like this.”
“He pulled Formosus out of his tomb, propped him up in court, and convicted him of variety of violations of canon law. Formosus was then taken out, three fingers cut off, and eventually thrown in the Tiber River.”
With the second impeachment of President Donald Trump, the Congress is set for one of the most bizarre moments in constitutional history: the removal of someone who has already left office. The retroactive removal would be a testament to the timeliness of rage. While it is not without precedent, it is without logic. The planned impeachment trial of Donald Trump after he leaves office would be our own version of the Cadaver Synod. In 897, Pope Stephen VI and his supporters continued to seethe over the action of Pope Formosus, who not only died in 896 but was followed by another pope, Boniface VI. After the brief rule of Boniface VI, Pope Stephen set about to even some scores. He pulled Formosus out of his tomb, propped him up in court, and convicted him of variety of violations of canon law. Formosus was then taken out, three fingers cut off, and eventually thrown in the Tiber River.
While some may be looking longingly at the Potomac for their own Cadaver Synod, Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other Democrats have stated that their primary interest is in the possible disqualification of Trump from holding future federal office. Disqualification however is an optional penalty that follows a conviction and removal. It may be added to the primary purpose of removal referenced in the Constitution. The Trump trial would convert this supplemental punishment into the primary purpose of the trial. This did happen before but that precedent is only slightly better than the Cadaver Synod. That case involved William Belknap who served as Secretary of War to President Ulysses S. Grant. Belknap resigned after allegations of corruption — just shortly before a House vote of impeachment.
The Senate held a trial but acquitted him. Twenty nine of 66 voting senators disagreed in a threshold motion that Belknap was “amenable to trial by impeachment . . . notwithstanding his resignation.” In fairness to the Democrats, I have long rejected the argument that there comes a point when it is too late to impeach a president while he is in office. As I said in both the Clinton and Trump impeachment hearings, the House is under a duty to impeach if it believes that a president has committed a high crime and misdemeanor. If that occurred on the last day of a term, it would still be warranted.
My objection to this second impeachment was that it proceeded without any deliberation of the traditional impeachment process. It was a snap impeachment, which is to the Constitution what Snapchat is to conversations. It reduces the process to a raw, brief and partisan vote. This could have been avoided. A hearing could have been held in a day to allow the language of the article to be amended and the implications of the impeachment considered. It would also have allowed for a formal demand for a response from the president. Instead, the impeachment was pushed through on a partisan muscle vote with only ten Republicans supporting the single article.
“I do not celebrate or feel pride,” the Twitter boss Jack Dorsey said this week after banishing Donald Trump. But for many around the world the decision brought hope: might similar action soon be taken against other populist provocateurs they accuse of using social media to stir chaos? “I have to follow YouTube’s rules when I post my videos, or I get banned. Journalists have to obey their outlet’s rules when they publish a story. So why shouldn’t presidents have to obey any rules when they publish something online?” wondered Felipe Neto, one of Brazil’s most famous and politicized online celebrities. “It’s as simple as that.” From Rio to Delhi, activists and academics have been asking similar questions following the US president’s suspension from platforms including Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, Snapchat and Instagram.
Calls for action have been particularly loud in Brazil, which has been led since 2019 by Jair Bolsonaro, a far-right tweeter-in-chief who basks in portrayals as the “tropical Trump”. “Twitter has put a muzzle on Trump. We’ll need another for Brazil,” tweeted Marcelo Freixo, one of several political rivals urging sanctions. Critics accuse Bolsonaro of repeatedly using social media to undermine democracy and incite violence. In an incendiary YouTube broadcast on the eve of his 2018 election he promised a historic “cleanup” of “red” rivals. In office, Bolsonaro has refused to moderate, using social media to encourage anti-democratic protests and urge “upstanding” supporters to buy guns to avoid being “enslaved”. In recent months Bolsonaro has questioned Brazil’s electronic voting system, convincing many that if he loses the next election he will reject its results as Trump has done – with unpredictable consequences for a young democracy.
“His obsession with arming the greatest possible number of his followers has an obvious goal,” warned Neto, who has 41m YouTube followers. “Bolsonaro and his family are preparing the ground not to accept election defeat – and things promise to be far worse than in the US [Capitol invasion].” Pedro Doria, a technology columnist, said he felt uneasy that unelected big tech bosses had the power to silence presidents. But he was also deeply troubled by Bolsonaro’s unchecked use of social media to preach political rupture. “If Trump was expurged from Twitter because he incited a mob against the Capitol, well, Bolsonaro is preparing himself to do the same … It makes no sense to wait for him to actually act on trying to overthrow the Brazilian democratic regime.”
In India, many have called for similar sanctions against the prime minister, Narendra Modi, and figures from his ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). While Modi’s regular use of Twitter is largely anodyne and uncontroversial, numerous senior and mid-level BJP politicians have been accused of politically motivated hate speech on their social media accounts.
President Donald Trump is preparing to issue around 100 pardons and commutations on his final full day in office Tuesday, according to three people familiar with the matter, a major batch of clemency actions that includes white collar criminals, high-profile rappers and others but – as of now – is not expected to include Trump himself. The White House held a meeting on Sunday to finalize the list of pardons, two sources said. Trump, who had been rolling out pardons and commutations at a steady clip ahead of Christmas, had put a pause on them in the days leading up to and directly after the January 6 riots at the US Capitol, according to officials Aides said Trump was singularly focused on the Electoral College count in the days ahead of time, precluding him for making final decisions on pardons.
White House officials had expected them to resume after January 6, but Trump retreated after he was blamed for inciting the riots. Initially, two major batches had been ready to roll out, one at the end of last week and one on Tuesday. Now, officials expect the last batch to be the only one — unless Trump decides at the last minute to grant pardons to controversial allies, members of his family or himself. The final batch of clemency actions is expected to include a mix of criminal justice reform-minded pardons and more controversial ones secured or doled out to political allies. The pardons are one of several items Trump must complete before his presidency ends in days. White House officials also still have executive orders prepared, and the President is still hopeful to declassify information related to the Russia probe before he leaves office.
But with a waning number of administration officials still in jobs, the likelihood that any of it gets done seemed to be shrinking. The January 6 riots that led to Trump’s second impeachment have complicated his desire to pardon himself, his kids and personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani. At this point, aides do not think he will do so, but caution only Trump knows what he will do with his last bit of presidential power before he is officially out of office at noon on January 20. After the riots, advisers encouraged Trump to forgo a self-pardon because it would appear like he was guilty of something, according to one person familiar with the conversations. Several of Trump’s closest advisers have also urged him not to grant clemency to anyone involved in the siege on the US Capitol, despite Trump’s initial stance that those involved had done nothing wrong.
“There are a lot of people urging the President to pardon the folks” involved in the insurrection, Trump ally Sen. Lindsey Graham said Sunday on Fox News. “To seek a pardon of these people would be wrong.” One White House official said paperwork had not yet been drawn up for a self-pardon. Still, Trump is expected to leave the White House on January 20 and could issue pardons up until noon on Inauguration Day. Other attention-grabbing names, like Julian Assange, are also not currently believed to among the people receiving pardons, but the list is still fluid and that could change, too.
“I don’t think it’s particularly difficult… to know what to expect from the Biden administration,” the acclaimed American journalist told Chris Hedges, host of RT’s On Contact, on Sunday. Biden, Greenwald continued, has enjoyed a five-decade career in Washington and made his policy priorities well known over these years. Biden is “somebody who has repeatedly supported militarism and imperialism” and “one of the crucial leading advocates of the invasion of Iraq,” he said. On the domestic front, Biden is “a loyal servant of the credit card and banking industry” and the “architect of the 1994 crime bill,” the latter of which has been blamed for dramatically upping the incarceration rate of black men in the US.
That leftists involved in Black Lives Matter protests rallied around Biden, given his involvement in passing the crime bill (he was one of 61 senators who voted for it) is “ironic,” Greenwald told Hedges, but also serves as an example of how the Democratic Party operates. “Democrats are very good at creating a brand that is radically different than the reality, but essentially the Democratic party serves militarism, imperialism, and corporatism,” he said. “That’s who funds them, that’s what they believe in. It’s why you see neocons migrating so comfortably back to the Democratic Party, why you see Bush and Cheney operatives cheering for Joe Biden, why Wall Street celebrated when he picked Kamala Harris.”
Biden’s campaign didn’t only draw support from the left – who Biden then spurned by packing his cabinet with Obama administration alumni while giving progressives like Bernie Sanders the cold shoulder. The former vice president was also supported by Republican hawks like Bill Kristol and Max Boot, as well as the much-maligned ‘Lincoln Project’ Republicans, who fundraised $67 million to shoot attack ads against Trump in the runup to November’s election. The rallying of the establishment – Democrat and Republican alike – behind Biden could have far-reaching consequences, Greenwald warned. “It’s not a coincidence that after eight years of Obama and Biden, we got Donald Trump,” he said. “Obviously, if you go back and do exactly the same thing that the ‘Obiden’ administration did for 8 years, which is what Biden’s preparing to do, any rational person has to expect the same outcome.”
Officials in the incoming Biden administration have already begun holding quiet talks with Iran on a return to the 2015 nuclear deal, and have updated Israel on those conversations, Channel 12 News reported Saturday. The network gave no sourcing for the report, and no details on what was allegedly discussed. US President-elect Joe Biden has indicated his desire to return to the accord, while Israel is pushing for any return to the deal to include fresh limitations on Iran’s ballistic missile program and support for terror and destabilization around the world. On Wednesday, Walla News reported that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is assembling a team to strategize for the first talks with the Biden administration on Iran’s nuclear program.
The team will include officials representing national security elements, the Foreign Ministry, the Defense Ministry, the military, the Mossad spy agency, and the Atomic Energy Commission, the report said, citing unnamed sources in the Prime Minister’s Office. Netanyahu is considering appointing a senior official to head the team and to serve as an envoy in talks with the US on the Iranian nuclear program, the report said. A possible candidate to head the team is Mossad chief Yossi Cohen, the report said. Channel 12 reported Saturday that Cohen was in Washington this week to meet with officials in the outgoing and incoming administrations.
US President-elect Joe Biden is expected to take a more conciliatory approach to Iran than the Trump administration and has said that if Iran returns to the terms of the 2015 nuclear agreement, he too would rejoin, removing the crushing economic sanctions that have wreaked havoc on the Iranian economy over the past two years. The US president-elect has indicated that he wants to negotiate more broadly with Tehran if Washington returns to the deal, notably over its missiles and influence across the Middle East. Iran has said it could welcome the return of the Americans to the agreement, but only after they lift sanctions. It has rejected negotiation on other issues. Former US president Barack Obama, with Biden as his vice president, signed the Iran nuclear deal with world powers in 2015.
The Trump administration withdrew from the accord in 2018 and pressured Iran with crippling economic sanctions and other measures. Obama signed the agreement despite fierce protest from Israel, and had a rocky relationship with Jerusalem and Netanyahu, while the premier and Trump have been in lockstep on most Middle East policy issues. The prospect of the US reengaging with Tehran has drawn warnings and alarm from Netanyahu and his allies. Last week, speaking alongside US Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin in Jerusalem, Netanyahu warned against the US rejoining the nuclear agreement, also known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). “If we just go back to the JCPOA, what will happen and may already be happening is that many other countries in the Middle East will rush to arm themselves with nuclear weapons. That is a nightmare and that is folly. It should not happen,” Netanyahu said.
U.S. President-elect Joe Biden is planning to cancel the permit for the $9 billion Keystone XL pipeline project as one of his first acts in office, and perhaps as soon as his first day, according to a source familiar with his thinking. President Donald Trump, a Republican, had made building the pipeline a central promise of his presidential campaign. Biden, who will be inaugurated on Wednesday, was vice president in the Obama administration when it rejected the project as contrary to its efforts to combat climate change. The words “Rescind Keystone XL pipeline permit” appear on a list of executive actions likely scheduled for the first day of Biden’s presidency, according to an earlier report by the Canadian Broadcasting Corp (CBC).
Biden, a Democrat, had earlier vowed to scrap the oil pipeline’s presidential permit if he became president. Canada’s ambassador to the United States said she would continue to promote a project that she said fit with both countries’ environmental plans. “There is no better partner for the U.S. on climate action than Canada as we work together for green transition,” Ambassador Kirsten Hillman said in a statement. The project, which would move oil from the province of Alberta to Nebraska, had been slowed by legal issues in the United States. It also faced opposition from environmentalists seeking to check the expansion of Canada’s oil sands by opposing new pipelines to move its crude to refineries. Alberta Premier Jason Kenney said on Twitter that cancellation would eliminate jobs, weaken U.S.-Canada relations and undermine American national security by making the United States more dependent on OPEC oil imports.
Almost a third of recovered Covid patients will end up back in hospital within five months and one in eight will die, alarming new figures have shown. Research by Leicester University and the Office for National Statistics (ONS) found there is a devastating long-term toll on survivors of severe coronavirus, with many people developing heart problems, diabetes and chronic liver and kidney conditions. Out of 47,780 people who were discharged from hospital in the first wave, 29.4 per cent were readmitted to hospital within 140 days, and 12.3 per cent of the total died. The current cut-off point for recording Covid deaths is 28 days after a positive test, so it may mean thousands more people should be included in the coronavirus death statistics.
Researchers have called for urgent monitoring of people who have been discharged from hospital. Study author Kamlesh Khunti, professor of primary care diabetes and vascular medicine at Leicester University, said: “This is the largest study of people discharged from hospital after being admitted with Covid. “People seem to be going home, getting long-term effects, coming back in and dying. We see nearly 30 per cent have been readmitted, and that’s a lot of people. The numbers are so large. “The message here is we really need to prepare for long Covid. It’s a mammoth task to follow up with these patients and the NHS is really pushed at the moment, but some sort of monitoring needs to be arranged.”
The study found that Covid survivors were nearly three and a half times more likely to be readmitted to hospital, and die, in the 140 days timeframe than other hospital outpatients. Prof Khunti said the team had been surprised to find that many people were going back in with a new diagnosis, and many had developed heart, kidney and liver problems, as well as diabetes. He said it was important to make sure people were placed on protective therapies, such as statins and aspirin. “We don’t know if it’s because Covid destroyed the beta cells which make insulin and you get Type 1 diabetes, or whether it causes insulin resistance, and you develop Type 2, but we are seeing these surprising new diagnoses of diabetes,” he added.
The website of the social media platform Parler has resurfaced after going offline earlier this month. While the platform still has not become operational again, the message indicates that it will revive “soon.” “Now seems like the right time to remind you all — both lovers and haters — why we started this platform,” the website says. “We believe privacy is paramount and free speech essential, especially on social media. Our aim has always been to provide a nonpartisan public square where individuals can enjoy and exercise their rights to both. We will resolve any challenge before mli us and plan to welcome all of you back soon. We will not let civil discourse perish!”
The platform vanished earlier this month after a move by Amazon Web Services. Buzzfeed reported that in a letter to Parler, the AWS Trust and Safety Team had stated “we cannot provide services to a customer that is unable to effectively identify and remove content that encourages or incites violence against others.”
The United States prepares for moving out of the Trump era with the incoming President promising more rounds of stimulus spending to revive an economy ravaged by Covid-19. Other members of the Organisation of Economic Cooperation and Development, a predominantly rich nation’s club, have also been generous with their spending and signalled that they are willing to keep their wallets open to spend more if necessary. The evidence clearly is that the Covid-crisis has upended the fiscal conservatism that has been the hallmark of the neoliberal era since the 1980s. However, not all nations seem to display this ability to depart from the prevailing orthodoxy. Where this weakness is most visible is the developing world, where governments, with very few exceptions, have not been loosening their purse strings to deal with the health emergency, throw out a safety net to protect devastated citizens, and stall and reverse the recession to restore livelihoods and normal economic activity.
Estimates from the World Bank in the January 2021 edition of its flagship Global Economic Prospects (GEP) report point to stark differences across countries at different levels of development in the level of fiscal support governments have provided in the wake of the Covid-shock (Chart 1). While planned and under-consideration measures in the advanced economies (AEs) are expected to have taken fiscal support spending to 22.6 per cent of their GDP, the comparable figures in emerging market and developing economies (EMDEs) as a group and low income economies (LICs) among them are placed at 6.2 and 2.4 per cent respectively (Chart 1). Government spending in 2020 was needed not just to address the immediate crisis, but to revive employment, investment and growth in the medium and long term.
If poorer countries have spent and are likely to spend less, while richer countries pump-prime their economies, the damage inflicted by the crisis is bound to worsen preexisting inequalities. Those inequalities are bound to increase, though the performance of a few exceptional cases like China, which influences the EMDE total, may conceal the magnitude of change in the aggregate figures. Underlying the difference in spending levels are the willingness and ability to resort to enhanced deficit spending, or expenditure financed with borrowing. Not that government debt has not risen in the poorer countries, albeit to a smaller extent than in their advanced counterparts. While the fiscal deficit in the AEs is estimated to have risen from 3.3 per cent of GDP in 2019 to 14.2 per cent in 2020, that in the EMDEs has moved from 4.8 per cent to 10.4 per cent and in the LICs from 3.3 to 5 per cent (Chart 2).
“Almost one in three households suffers hunger, regularly. Almost half of black and hispanic households. Households with children are most vulnerable to the government policies. So half of the kids in the U.S. have inadequate nutrition.”
This is now about a year into the pandemic and there have still been no debates, no public roundtables and no referendums. Nothing. Just decrees by the government. I honestly have given up trying to make sense of statistics, really. But a couple of things have not changed; the fatality rate if you catch Covid 19 is under 1% (and yes, case fatality is different than infectious mortality and that in turn is different from mortality rate). And depending on how it is being counted, it is often a good deal less than that. And yet the entire planet has been subjected to severe restrictions on travel, and coerced to follow pseudoscientific behaviour like mask wearing and social distancing. Today in many places there is what amounts to martial law. Police or national guard patrol the streets after dark. Many countries have banned public events, closed restaurants and nightclubs, and limited any public gatherings. Many schools remain closed or only partially open.
The economic consequences of these non-debated government policies have been catastrophic. In the U.S. something like 60 million jobs have been lost, many never to return. A hundred and fifty thousand restaurants have gone bankrupt. Only one in three museums will ever reopen. In San Francisco they decided NOT to count the numbers of new homeless. No reason was given but one can guess. The homeless situation in the U.S., in big cities in particular, was critical even before the pandemic. Now the numbers are unprecedented. Not even during the ‘Great Depression’ was there anything like the current level of those without basic shelter. Food insecurity is at a crisis level. Feeding America, the largest hunger relief organization in the US, estimates over 50 million people go hungry every night including something close to twenty million children.
“Since mid-March 2020, numerous surveys have documented unprecedented levels of food insecurity that eclipse anything seen in recent decades in the United States, including during the Great Recession. Over the past five years, US Department of Agriculture (USDA) estimates of food insecurity in the United States have hovered around 11% to 12%. As of March and April 2020, national estimates of food insecurity more than tripled to 38% In a national survey we fielded in March 2020 among adults with incomes less than 250% of the 2020 federal poverty level (based on thresholds from the US Census), 44% of all households were food insecure including 48% of Black households, 52% of Hispanic households, and 54% of households with children.” – American Public Heath Association (Dec 2020)
And yet, congress just passed another defense budget increase. According to Defense News… “..the final version of the 2020 defense appropriations bill, part of a broad $1.4 trillion spending deal to finalize federal spending for 2020 and avert a government shutdown. The defense bill would provide $738 billion.” Almost one in three households suffers hunger, regularly. Almost half of black and hispanic households. Households with children are most vulnerable to the government policies. So half of the kids in the U.S. have inadequate nutrition. Half will suffer long term developmental problems, almost guaranteed.
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern leaves after the Friday prayers at Hagley Park outside Al-Noor mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand March 22, 2019. REUTERS/Jorge Silva
Dani Lebo is the wife of Nelson Lebo III, a regular contributor at the Automatic Earth. They are two Americans who have settled in Whanganui on the North Island of New Zealand. Whanganui is over 600 km (400 miles) from Christchurch on the South Island, but that is where Dani found herself last Friday, in the park next to the mosque where most of the victims fell. This is what she wrote about that.
Dani and Nelson named their son after a Neil Diamond song.
Dani Lebo with son Suleiman
Dani Lebo: A week after my son was born, I come across his name in an article in the New York Times. I catch my breath. He is a young man. He is describing the scene after a bomb tore through his village in Afghanistan. He is terrified, he says. He doesn’t know where to sleep. I don’t sleep that night either.
A year and a half later I see my son’s name in our local paper. He arrived six weeks ago from Syria. His brother and sister were killed by a bomb that woke him in the night. He is 5 years old and has already witnessed more tragedy than I will ever see in my lifetime.
Today I say my son’s full name as he giggles and throws himself into my arms. I sing the song that he was named for. He laughs. His shaggy golden hair covers his blue eyes.
“His name means ‘peace’,” I once justified to a Plunket nurse who didn’t even attempt to pronounce it. For some reason I felt the need to explain away her unwillingness to engage in something she saw as “different” or “too hard”. It is uncommon here, but common in the Muslim world. My son shares his name with millions of boys – millions of Muslim boys. Their mothers also named them “peace”.
People gathered to mourn at Hagley Park, Christchurch, last weekend. Photo Michael Craig
And then there I was sitting on the floor of a potting shed in Hagley Park on Friday, March 15, thinking about how relieved I was that my Suleiman, my laughing, smiling, joy of a boy was nowhere near me. Relieved that my Suleiman was safe at home – protected from this scene by 627km and the colour of his skin. And while I was sitting there feeling that relief I was so acutely aware that just a few hundred metres away sat a mother who was, in that very moment, watching her own son die.
In my head I know I was safe that day, but I’m having trouble telling my mind that.
Although I was very close to the shooting, I was never a target. I have run through a few hundred scenarios in my head where the day ends differently – the gunman’s car doesn’t start and he escapes on foot through the park – or he returns to the police cordon after the initial shooting – or his hatred is just slightly less predictable and he decides to spread his terror in a more random direction.
In each of these scenarios he comes to the shed where we were waiting. I try to dismiss these thoughts as quickly as they come, but they are wearing me down. They are wearing me down and I wasn’t even in any real danger. I heard no shots. I saw no blood. My Suleiman was far far away.
I almost didn’t write this column because people are feeling fatigued by this story, by this grief. I am feeling fatigued by my story, by my grief. But I want to let you know how I am feeling. Because you might be feeling this way too one day.
On Friday I spent four hours sitting in a shed in Hagley Park surrounded by uncertainty and fear. Like hundreds of others I waited tensely within blocks of the shooting not knowing exactly where and what was happening.
The fear and sadness and rage I am experiencing this week has given me a glimpse, the smallest tiniest of understanding, of what it would be like to exist in a world of uncertainty and fear.
The world where a man sits near the window when he prays because he is certain that one day he will need to use it as an escape route. And then he does. The world where children are trained in lockdown procedures. The world that our Muslim friends, our black friends, our Chinese friends walk in every day.
My experience that day wasn’t exceptional, and to me that’s an exceptional comment on the state of the world.
• Dani Lebo has a background in international relations and education. She runs The ECO School, an organisation dedicated to accessible sustainability education.
U.S. stocks swooned for a second day Thursday after the Federal Reserve raised benchmark interest rates and said that it would continue to let its massive balance sheet shrink at the current pace. Fears of a government shutdown also sent stocks tumbling to new lows Thursday afternoon. The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 464.06 points to 22,859.6, bringing its two-day declines to more than 800 points and its 5-day losses to more than 1,700 points. The S&P 500 fell 1.5 percent to finish at 2,467.41 as technology stocks underperformed. The Nasdaq Composite fell 1.6 percent and closed at 6,528.41, briefly dipping into bear market territory amid big losses in Amazon and Apple.
The Nasdaq is 19.7 percent below its recent high. Companies in the S&P 500 have lost a total of $2.39 trillion in market cap this month. The Cboe Volatility Index — one of the market’s best gauges of marketplace fear — rose above 30. The Dow and Nasdaq posted their lowest closes since October 2017, while the S&P 500 finished at its lowest level since September 2017. The Dow and S&P 500, which are both in corrections, are on track for their worst December performance since the Great Depression in 1931, down more than 10 percent each this month. The S&P 500 is now in the red for 2018 by 7.7 percent.
“The market’s in no man’s land,” said Peter Boockvar, chief investment strategist at Bleakley Advisory Group. Stocks have broken through the lows of the year, and technicians are scurrying to find the next support levels. On the S&P 500, he said 2,400 is a potential psychological area of support. The market plunged Thursday against the backdrop of a congressional feud with the White House over a continuing budget resolution, but the markets were more focused on the worries that have been festering over global growth and the potential for recession. “You can guarantee if the government shuts down it’s going to very soon reopen,” said Boockvar.
“This could be a carry through from yesterday, that’s legitimate. The problem now is this is the first time in years in this bull market that people are doing tax-loss selling. That’s helping to exaggerate the move. You’re also having redemptions.” Since the Fed announced its rate hike Wednesday, the Dow was down 815 points. The sharp drop in stocks since early October was unexpected and even more crushing recently, since December is typically a positive time for stocks. The 10 percent decline so far in the S&P 500 is its worst December performance since 1931. If it remains this way, it would the first time ever that December is the worst month of the year for the index.
US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis resigned Thursday, leading a chorus of protests at home and abroad after President Donald Trump ordered a complete troop pullout from Syria and a significant withdrawal from Afghanistan. Trump steadfastly defended his sudden push for retrenchment, vowing that the United States would no longer be the “policeman of the Middle East” and saying the 2,000-strong US force in Syria was no longer needed as the Islamic State group had been defeated. Mattis, a battle-hardened retired four-star general seen as a moderating force on the often impulsive president, made little attempt to hide his disagreements with Trump.
“Because you have the right to have a secretary of defense whose views are better aligned with yours,” Mattis said in a letter to Trump, “I believe it is right for me to step down from my position.” Mattis hailed the coalition to defeat Islamic State as well as NATO, the nearly 70-year-old alliance between North America and Europe whose cost-effectiveness has been questioned by the businessman turned president. “My views on treating allies with respect and also being clear-eyed about both malign actors and strategic competitors are strongly held and informed by over four decades of immersion in these issues,” Mattis wrote. One day after the surprise announcement on Syria, a US official told AFP that Trump had also decided on a “significant withdrawal” in a much larger US operation – Afghanistan.
The House passed a temporary spending bill Thursday with money for President Donald Trump’s proposed border wall, further muddying the scramble to dodge a partial government shutdown by Friday. The chamber approved the measure to keep the government running into February by a 217-185 vote. But the path forward now is murky. The bill likely will not clear the Senate because it includes more than $5 billion for the border barrier, increasing the chances that funding for seven agencies lapses after the midnight Friday deadline. Senators were told Thursday to prepare for potential votes Friday. The chamber convenes at noon. The Senate unanimously approved a bill Wednesday night to keep the government running through Feb. 8 — without border wall money.
Trump insisted Thursday that he would not sign it. It forced House Republicans to include the wall money in the new bill. Both House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer have flatly said congressional Democrats will not approve wall money. As Republicans need Democratic votes to pass spending legislation in the Senate, a partial shutdown is all but assured if the GOP insists on funding for the barrier. It is unclear if Republicans will abandon that goal in an effort to keep the government running past Friday. During a televised Oval Office fracas last week, Pelosi challenged Trump by saying he did not have the votes for wall money in the House. It turns out he did.
China’s Foreign Ministry said on Friday it resolutely opposed “slanderous” accusations from the United States and other allies criticizing China for economic espionage, urging Washington to withdraw its accusations. The United States should also withdraw charges against two Chinese citizens, the ministry said, adding that China had never participated in or supported any stealing of commercial secrets and had lodged “stern representations” with Washington. “We urge the U.S. side to immediately correct its erroneous actions and cease its slanderous smears relating to internet security,” it said, adding that it would take necessary measures to safeguard its own cybersecurity and interests.
It has long been an “open secret” that U.S. government agencies have hacked into and listening in on foreign governments, companies and individuals, the ministry added. “The U.S. side making unwarranted criticisms of China in the name of so-called ‘cyber stealing’ is blaming others while oneself is to be blamed, and is self-deception. China absolutely cannot accept this.” U.S. prosecutors indicted two Chinese nationals linked to China’s Ministry of State Security intelligence agency on charges of stealing confidential data from American government agencies and businesses around the world. Prosecutors charged Zhu Hua and Zhang Shilong in hacking attacks against the U.S. Navy, the space agency NASA and the Energy Department and dozens of companies. The operation targeted intellectual property and corporate secrets to give Chinese companies an unfair competitive advantage, they said.
Russia’s media regulator said on Friday it would carry out checks to determine if the BBC World News channel and BBC internet sites complied with Russian law, a move it described as a response to British pressure on a Russian TV channel. Roskomnadzor, the regulator, said in a statement its checks were Russia’s response to a decision by British media regulator Ofcom, which on Thursday said that Russian broadcaster RT had broken impartiality rules in some of its news and current affairs programs. “The results of our check will be announced separately,” the Russian regulator said. Ofcom said on Thursday it was considering imposing some kind of sanction on RT, which is financed by the Russian state.
It took issue in particular with its coverage of the poisoning in Britain of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter. Britain has accused agents working for Russia’s military intelligence agency, the GRU, of committing the crime, an allegation Moscow denies. British Media Secretary Jeremy Wright also weighed in on Thursday, saying what he called RT’s mask as an impartial news provider was slipping. RT rejected Ofcom’s findings, saying Ofcom had ignored its explanations and not paid “due regard” to its rights. Commenting on the launch of the Russian investigation on Friday, Margarita Simonyan, RT’s editor-in-chief, said on Twitter that Ofcom had hinted that it planned to strip her channel of its broadcasting license in Britain. “(Welcome to the) brave new world,” she wrote.
The first flights have resumed at Gatwick airport after a series of drone sightings caused days of disruption, affecting more than 100,000 passengers. Airlines warned customers to continue to check their flight’s status on Friday morning as the airport worked to “introduce a limited number of flights over the coming hours”. The runway had remained closed throughout Thursday night, forcing passengers to search for accommodation or shelter at the airport, and bringing demands for new aviation regulations to tackle the threat. The airport’s chief operating officer, Chris Woodroofe, said 120,000 passengers’ flights had been disrupted by the incident.
On Thursday night police said there had been more than 50 sightings of the drone in 24 hours from when the runway was first closed. Night-flight restrictions had been lifted at other airports, so “more planes could get into and out of the country”, the transport secretary, Chris Grayling said. “This is clearly a very serious ongoing incident in which substantial drones have been used to bring about the temporary closure of a major international airport,” he said. “The people who were involved should face the maximum possible custodial sentence for the damage they have done. The government is doing everything it can to support Sussex police.”
Shooting down the drone was being considered as a “tactical option” after other strategies to stop it had failed. Amid disbelief that the drone incident could be enough to bring one of the UK’s key airports to a standstill, the perpetrator or perpetrators eluded a search conducted by 20 units from two police forces in the surrounding area.
[..] there is a world beyond Brexit. True, it lacks the frenzied drama of cabinet walkouts, prime ministerial straw-clutching or humiliation served cold in Brussels. But things still happen – it’s just that they haven’t won much attention. It has been a good month to bury bad news. So allow me to disinter some of the headlines deep inside the newspapers. Since we’re counting small things, let’s start with children. Last week it was reported that a primary school in Great Yarmouth had opened its own food bank. It was launched by the headteacher, Debbie Whiting, after she saw pupils under 11 so hungry they were stealing from others’ lunchboxes.
This week, more than half of teachers surveyed by the National Education Union expressed fears that some of their kids won’t have enough to eat this Christmas. They reported a boy turning up wearing his trousers back to front, in order to hide the holes in the knees, and a class where one in three children sleep in their uniforms because they have no pyjamas. If anything qualifies as a national emergency, it should be this. A new generation growing up without adequate food and clothing ought to be leading TV bulletins and shaming government ministers into action. What dominates instead is blue-on-blue match commentary, because Jacob Rees-Mogg is box office while poor people can be slipped in just before the “And finally”.
The cover of Oliver Nachtwey’s book depicts a VW Beetle, emblem of Teutonic manufacturing prowess since Hitler’s day, driving off a cliff. Is the country that got used to imposing its values on feebler client nations – bailing out southern Europeans with their oversized public sectors, rampant tax avoidance and long lunches – in trouble? The Germany described by this Frankfurt School professor is a basket case – post-growth, post-democratic, with the first fascists in the Bundestag since the Third Reich. Despite being Europe’s richest country, it has higher numbers of working poor than any other EU state; almost one in four of its workers is paid less than the €9.30 (£8.40) minimum wage, many requiring state support.
Sociologist Ulrich Beck in the giddy 1980s called Germany an elevator society, in which millions of skilled workers upgraded from VWs to Audis and expected their children to rise still further in social status and wealth. The elevator may have seized up for a while after reunification, but only five years ago Germany seemed unstoppable. Every German, Beck thought, was in the same lift. No longer. Not only has downward mobility become more evident but the poor get poorer, the rich get richer, the older get tenure, the younger join the precariat. Sure, greater equality of opportunity means more women work than ever before, but of all German women in work only one in three earns the minimum wage.
“So while German women are more equal in terms of rights, inequality between women has never been greater than it is today,” Nachtwey argues. This is symptomatic of what he calls regressive modernisation and of the following paradox: “The more a society is based on equality of opportunity, the more unequal it becomes, and the more legitimate its inequalities”. Legitimate? The losers are perceived to be those who deserve to lose, the winners those who deserve to win. And the losers are the usual suspects – women, immigrants, those who have no qualifications. A Germany that once prided itself on social mobility, and whose sociologists once crazily imagined class distinctions were over, has become, in terms of class, as sclerotic as Britain.
Malaysia is seeking US$7.5 billion in reparations from Goldman Sachs over its dealings with scandal-linked state fund 1MDB, the Financial Times reported on Friday (Dec 21), citing the country’s finance minister. Malaysian prosecutors this week filed charges against Goldman Sachs in connection with its role as underwriter and arranger of three bond sales that raised US$6.5 billion for 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), the first criminal action against the US bank over the scandal. Goldman Sachs has consistently denied wrongdoing and said certain members of the former Malaysian government and 1MDB lied to the bank about the proceeds of the bond sales.
In addition to the bonds’ total value, Goldman Sachs should also return US$1 billion to cover US$600 million in fees paid to the bank and bond coupons that were “higher than the market rate”, the FT quoted Malaysian finance minister Lim Guan Eng as saying. The three 10-year bonds carried coupons ranging from 4.4 per cent to 5.99 per cent. Lim also told the FT that reparations should at least be more than US$1.8 billion, the sum Goldman Sachs has told investors it had set aside to cover potential losses related to 1MDB legal proceedings. “Their figure is US$1.8 billion. Ours is US$7.5 billion,” Lim said. Goldman Sachs told the FT: “The 1MDB bond offerings were meant to raise money to benefit Malaysia; instead, a huge portion of those funds were stolen for the benefit of members of the Malaysian government and their associates.”
Singapore has expanded a criminal probe into fund flows linked to scandal-plagued 1MDB to include Goldman Sachs, which helped raise money for the entity, people with knowledge of the matter said. Police in the city-state had been examining Goldman’s relationship with the Malaysian state investment company since at least late 2017, but until recently, the firm’s local unit itself wasn’t a focus of any investigation, said the people, asking not to be named discussing sensitive information.
Authorities are trying to determine whether some of the roughly $600 million in fees from the three bond deals Goldman arranged for 1MDB from 2012 to 2013 flowed to the Singapore subsidiary, they said. Singapore’s widened probe opens a potential new battle front for Goldman, less than a week after Malaysia filed the first criminal charges against the firm over a relationship that spawned one of the biggest scandals in its history. Singapore is coordinating closely with the U.S. Justice Department, which is also investigating Goldman and has filed criminal charges against two former senior bankers at the firm, the people said.
Former Nissan chairman Carlos Ghosn has been re-arrested on fresh charges, Japanese media report, dashing any hopes he could be released on bail. Mr Ghosn has spent the last month in prison, accused of misusing funds and hiding $80m of income. But on Thursday a court rejected a request by the prosecution to extend his detention, which meant he could apply to be released on bail. Friday’s arrest is on a new charge of aggravated breach of trust. According to Japanese broadcaster NHK, prosecutors now accuse Mr Ghosn of shifting a private investment loss of over $16m onto Nissan in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis.
A towering and revered figure in the auto industry, Mr Ghosn has not yet responded to the latest allegation – but he has consistently denied all prior accusations made against him. He was first arrested in Tokyo in November as allegations of financial misconduct surfaced. The BBC’s Mariko Oi says that ever since Carlos Ghosn stepped off his private jet only to be taken into police custody, the case has gripped Japan with speculation rife over what could be behind such a stunning fall from grace. The case has been highly unusual – not least for a high profile chief executive to be spending time in jail – but also because of its legal twists such as yesterday’s when the court rejected an application to extend his detention..
Scientists have identified a new species of tree that is thought to have become extinct before it was even named. The tree, which has now been called Vepris bali, is believed to have been unique to a forest reserve in west Africa, but forest clearing and agricultural development have wiped it out. Scientists are studying the vepris species for the antimicrobial and antimalarial properties of their essential oils. Researchers hope several other vepris trees will be identified and named in Cameroon before they also disappear. A specimen was collected by a forester, Edwin Ujor, in the Bali Ngemba Forest Reserve in Cameroon in 1951.
The specimen was thought to belong to the genus vepris, which has 80 species, mostly found across Africa. But the tree has not been seen anywhere since. Researchers from the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, and the country’s University of Yaoundé I examined the original specimens and used molecular phylogenetic studies to identify the new species. They say the tree is now either critically endangered or already extinct.
Repeated efforts to find the species between 2000 and 2004 and at least six other studies failed to turn up any sign that the tree still exists. Tens of thousands of plant species globally face similar risks. According to the International Plant Names Index, only about 5 per cent of all known species have ever been formally assessed for their extinction risk. The authors wrote: “This makes it a priority to discover, document and protect such species before they become globally extinct.” The Bali Ngemba Forest Reserve, an officially protected forest, is part of the Bamenda highlands, an area so denuded of its natural forest vegetation that it is now known in Cameroon as “the grasslands”.
The Trump Administration and the Republicans in Congress have passed one of the best pro-growth tax bills ever. The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act ranks in the all-time hall of fame of legislation, along with Ronald Reagan’s 1981 and 1986 Tax Acts and John F. Kennedy’s posthumous tax cuts of 1964. The announcements by Apple, FedEx, ATT, Fiat Chrysler and over 300 companies with multi-billion dollar investments in the U.S. are early indicators of good things to come from the tax rate cuts. When this is combined with President Donald Trump’s deregulation agenda, we see no reason why the economy cannot grow for a sustained period at 3 to 4% growth — up from 1.6% in Obama’s last year. But there is still a missing pillar of prosperity in the Trump economic agenda, and that is a sound dollar strategy.
The dollar weakened in 2017 and we want it stabilized. There’s little in this world that can bring our economy to its knees faster than a weak dollar in the foreign exchange markets. Just ask people who served in the administrations of Nixon, Ford, Carter, Bush 2 and Barack Obama’s first term. All of them were undone by a weak and depreciating dollar, surging inflation, spiking interest rates, plus financial or commodity bubbles. Meanwhile, under Reagan the U.S. dollar increased by 67% in value on foreign exchange markets through 1985. The price of gold, interest rates, and inflation all fell as well from double-digit inflationary highs, while the American economy reignited and the stock market launched its 18 year bull market.
Or, go back further in time. In May of 1962, President Kennedy’s Revenue Act was passed and he reaffirmed that the U.S. dollar was as good as gold — thus launching the incredible boom called the ‘Go-Go Sixties’. A strong dollar is an essential pillar of economic prosperity with minimal inflation, but we worry that the White House has not adopted this strategy. So we urge the Trump administration to return to the successful “King Dollar” policies that worked in the 60’s, 80’s and 90’s.
Want a neat narrative? There isn’t one. Stocks buckled, $3 trillion was lost, then just as quickly, roughly half of it came back. Nothing quite explains every little twist and turn. Much of it remains a blur. But there are clues to be gleaned from the behavior of buyers and sellers. Several key facts stand out. One: a very large sum of money was plowed into equities amid January’s euphoria. Two: even more was yanked out as shares plunged. Three: corporate buyers showed up in force at the bottom. Combined, the flows are a framework for understanding — not a grand theory of everything, but an account of how money moved during the most tumultuous stretch in two years. They show how fast things change during a late-stage bull market, a rally that got back on track with this week’s 4.3% rebound.
“There was a technical correction but we saw some fear and some panic and some investors getting burned,” said Andrew Adams, a strategist at Raymond James Financial. “By no means did anyone expect that this selloff would be of this swiftness and magnitude.” Whatever the role of computers and automated traders as markets bucked and recovered, the events had a recognizable human ring. Investors – many of them of them newly christened, going by account data at discount brokerages – sent $16.4 billion to U.S. stock mutual funds and ETFs between Jan. 2 and the market peak of Jan. 26, EPFR data show. It was a decision they quickly reconsidered. Spooked by signs of inflation, shocked by the sight of traders unwinding bets against volatility, clients pulled almost $27 billion from the same set of funds in the next nine sessions.
One security, the SPDR S&P 500 ETF Trust, saw $23.6 billion withdrawn in one week. What made the selloff stop is anyone’s guess. It happened at a chart level, the S&P 500’s average price over the last 200 days, that half the world was watching a week ago Friday. But who the buyers were is less of a mystery. The Goldman Sachs unit that executes share repurchases for clients saw 4.5 times its average daily volume last week, its busiest ever. “Retail investors were fearful immediately after the selloff, but not the companies,” said Aidan Garrib, macro strategist at Pavilion Global Markets. “Companies have buyback policies that get reconsidered every quarter, so if you told shareholders that you’re going to buy back stock, and then a market blow-up that had no impact on your fundamentals made the price fall more than expected, maybe it’s not a bad thing to step in.”
In this piece, I will discuss a little-followed, but valuable market indicator called the “St. Louis Fed Financial Stress Index.” According to the St. Louis Fed, this indicator was created in 2010 after economists sought a better way to track U.S. financial system stress in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis. This index uses 18 weekly data series: seven interest rate series, six yield spreads and five other indicators (mostly sentiment-related indicators). When the index is very high (such as in 2008), it means that the U.S. financial system is experiencing a great amount of stress. When the index is low (such as during an economic expansion and bull market), it means that the financial system is experiencing a low amount of stress. According to the chart below, U.S. financial system stress is currently at record lows:
According to the chart below (with my comments added in red), dangerous economic bubbles form during relative troughs in the St. Louis Fed Financial Stress Index. The late-1990s Dot-com bubble formed when the index was at a relative low, as did the mid-2000s U.S. housing and credit bubble, and I believe that the “Everything Bubble” is forming during the current trough. The “Everything Bubble” is a bubble that is inflating in numerous global assets and sectors (including tech startups, U.S. equities, global bonds, some segments of the U.S. property market, property in China, emerging markets, Australia, Canada, and more) as a result of unprecedented central bank stimulus since the global financial crisis.
The U.S. Federal Reserve has manipulated interest rates by keeping them extremely low, which has led to the inflation of bubbles throughout the economy. As the chart below shows, bubbles form during periods of low interest rates. In this case, “low” is all relative because interest rates have been trending lower since the early-1980s, which is why asset and credit bubbles are becoming more extreme than in the past. Most people are unaware of how extreme our current bubble is, but it will certainly be another case of “only when the tide goes out do you discover who’s been swimming naked” (to quote Warren Buffett).
There’s a long way to go before the U.S. government starts regulating bitcoin, Rob Joyce, special assistant to the president and White House cybersecurity coordinator, told CNBC on Friday. Speaking at the Munich Security Conference in Germany, Joyce emphasized the need to better understand the cryptocurrency’s risks and benefits before embarking on any sort of regulatory regime. “I think we’re still absolutely studying and understanding what the good ideas and bad ideas in that space are,” he said when asked about the potential for government regulation. “So, I don’t think it’s close.” Bitcoin is a decentralized cryptocurrency, meaning that unlike fiat currencies such as the dollar, it’s not backed by a central authority. Critics have said that this gives the currency, which saw huge price gains in 2017, no inherent value.
As transactions are completely anonymous, bitcoin has been accused of making it easier for those engaged in illicit activities to hide their money. “We are worried. There are benefits to the bitcoin concept — digital cash, digital currencies,” Joyce said. “But at the same time, if you look at the way bitcoin works after there is a criminal act that takes place, you can’t rewind the clock and take back that currency.” Joyce described the inherent problem with this lack of a trail, noting that in the case of credit card theft, for instance, individuals or companies can contact their banks and purchases can be undone and the cash retrieved. “With the current instantiation of bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, we haven’t figured that out yet. So it’s a problem,” he said.
Fewer than half the world’s biggest banks are doing enough to forestall climate change that poses risks to their markets and economies. Most lenders still aren’t producing firm targets for low-carbon financial products that will aid efforts to keep temperatures from rising, according to a survey of 59 banks conducted by Boston Common Asset Management. Even the strongest banks in the survey, including Goldman Sachs, still struggle to define a climate strategy at the heart of their business, according to the report published Thursday and backed by more than 100 institutional investors. Scientists predict higher frequencies of floods, famines and superstorms unless the world keeps temperature rises well below 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) this century.
Goldman Sachs was cited as a leader in the report after the investment bank set a 2025 target of $150 billion in clean energy financing and investing. It also released a clean energy impact report in 2016 that examined the impact of the $41 billion in green investments. Almost half of the groups have put in place climate risk assessments and 61% haven’t restricted the financing of coal. The global banking sector provided $600 billion in financing for the top 120 coal plant developers between 2014 and September 2017, according to the report. Boston Common called for all banks to disclose climate risk in line with the Taskforce on Climate-related Financial Disclosures. They should also set clear targets to promote low carbon products and publish strategy reports aligned with the Paris Agreement, according to the recommendations.
“Since 2005, when Goldman Sachs established its Environmental Policy Framework, harnessing market-based solutions to address environmental challenges has become increasingly core to our business,” said Kyung-Ah Park, head of the Environmental Markets Group at Goldman Sachs. “Our $150 billion target of financing and investing in companies that promote clean technology and renewable energy is an example of our commitment to addressing climate change.”
An Arkansas judge on Friday dismissed a Monsanto lawsuit aiming to stop Arkansas from blocking the use of a controversial farm chemical the company makes, dealing a blow to its attempts to increase sales of genetically engineered seeds. Monsanto, which is being acquired by Bayer, filed the lawsuit last year in a bid to halt the state’s ban on sprayings of the weed killer known as dicamba from the period spanning April 16 to Oct. 31. Growers across the U.S. farm belt said last summer that dicamba drifted away from where it was sprayed, damaging millions of acres of crops that could not tolerate the herbicides. St. Louis-based Monsanto, the biggest U.S. seed company, said it was disappointed with the judge’s decision and would consider additional legal action.
In the ruling, Pulaski County Circuit Court Judge Chris Piazza cited a recent Arkansas Supreme Court decision that the state cannot be made a defendant in court, according to the Arkansas Agriculture Department. Dicamba, also sold by BASF and DowDuPont, is meant to be used during the summer growing season on soybeans and cotton that Monsanto engineered to resist the chemical. Monsanto is banking on the herbicide and its dicamba-resistant soybean seeds to dominate soybean production in the United States, the world’s second-largest exporter. The company says dicamba, which it sells under the name XtendiMax with VaporGrip, is safe when used properly.
The Arkansas ban hurts Monsanto’s ability to sell dicamba-tolerant seed in the state and has caused “irreparable harm” to the company, according to Monsanto’s lawsuit. The state also limited use of Monsanto’s dicamba herbicide in 2017 but allowed sales of products by other companies. David Wildy, an Arkansas farmer who served on a state task force that recommended the ban, said he supported Friday’s ruling. He said his soybeans suffered damage from the herbicide last year and that it threatens plants ranging from flowers to vegetables and peanuts when it drifts away from where it is sprayed. “If we can’t keep products on target, then there’s not a place for them in agriculture,” Wildy said in an telephone interview.
There’s absolutely nothing that might make Mars a “sustainable” habitat for human beings, or probably any other form of Earthly life. The journey alone would destroy human bodies. If you think that living in Honolulu is expensive, with most daily needs of the population shipped or flown in, imagine what it would be like sending a cargo of provisions (Doritos? Pepperoni sticks? Mountain Dew? Fabreeze?) to a million “consumers” up on Mars. Or do you suppose the colonists will “print” their food, water, and other necessities? Elon Musk’s ventures have reportedly vacuumed in around $5 billion in federal subsidies. Mr. Musk is doing a fine job of keeping his benefactors entertained. Americans are still avid for adventures in space, where just about every other movie takes place.
I suppose it’s because they take us away from the awful conundrums of making a go of it here on Earth, a planet that humans were exquisitely evolved for (or designed for, if you will), and which we are in the process of rendering uninhabitable for ourselves and lots of other creatures. This is our home. Can we talk about the necessary adjustments and arrangements we have to make in order to continue the human project here? Just based on our performance on this blue planet, we are not qualified to infect other parts of the solar system.
The country is slipping into a crisis and Germany, the bastion of stability in Europe, is becoming politically unstable. And every month the country continues to be run by a provisional government is another month that Germany doesn’t have a voice in Europe or the world.This is by no means purely a domestic development. The party system is currently being turn upside down across Western democracies. Owing to Germany’s prosperity and the sedative power of its chancellor, it long appeared that Merkel had been spared by the international development. But the torturous wrangling to create a new government has now dashed that hope.
In France, the two parties that once dominated the country now hold only just over a quarter of the seats in the national parliament. In Italy, the Five Star Movement, which doesn’t seem to stand for much other than the desire for change and its loathing of the status quo and is led by a former TV comedian, appears to have strong chances of winning the election there in March. In Germany, the old establishment parties are also struggling to maintain political stability. Combined support for the SPD and the conservatives has dropped from over 90% at the beginning of the 1970s to just 49% today. Their decline, which had previously been a slow and creeping process, has rapidly accelerated in recent months.
The party system in Germany is splintering, with seven parties now represented in national parliament. When it is no longer possible to form governments with two or three parties, it will necessarily become increasingly difficult to build stable governments. Italy already provides an example of what that can mean. The country is constantly swapping out its prime minister and holding snap elections. Italy has had almost 30 prime ministers and a total of 61 cabinets since 1946. In the same period, Germany has been governed by eight chancellors.
US indictment of 13 Russian nationals and three entities over alleged meddling in American elections in 2016 has been labelled absurd by the Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson, Maria Zakharova. “Turns out, there’ve been 13 people, in the opinion of the US Justice Department. 13 people interfered in the US elections? 13 against billions budgets of special agencies? Against intelligence and counterespionage, against the newest technologies? Absurd? – Yes.” Zakharova said in a Facebook post. The indictment, however, is the “modern American political reality,” Zakharova added, jokingly suggesting that the number 13 was picked due to its negative associations.
One of the indicted, Russian businessman Evgeny Prigozhin, said he was not really upset by the accusations. “The Americans are very emotional people, they see what they want to see. I have great respect for them. I am not at all upset that I am on this list. If they want to see the devil, let them,” Prigozhin told RIA Novosti. The entities and individuals were indicted by a US federal grand jury on Friday of “supporting the presidential campaign of then-candidate Donald J. Trump…and disparaging Hillary Clinton.” However, there are “no allegations” that the suspected activities of the Russian nationals somehow affected the polls, according to the US Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.
On Friday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said that supporting Donald Trump has never been an official Russian policy, even if some Russians did express their backing of the new US leader. The Minister has expressed his discontent with the apparently continuing nosedive in the US-Russia relations. “It’s a pity that under Donald Trump, for more than a year of his presidency, our relations have not improved compared to the period of the Democratic administration. Even worsened to a certain extent,” Lavrov told Euronews.
Aid agencies including Oxfam were warned that aid workers were sexually abusing children in Haiti a decade ago, The Independent can reveal. Children as young as six were being coerced into sex in exchange for food and necessities, according to a damning report by Save the Children, which called for urgent action including the creation of a global watchdog. Its research exposed abuse linked to 23 humanitarian, peacekeeping and security organisations operating in Haiti, Ivory Coast and what was then Southern Sudan. “Our own fieldwork suggests that the scale of abuse is significant,” the report concluded. “Every agency is at risk from this problem … existing efforts to keep children safe from sexual exploitation and abuse are inadequate.”
It identified “every kind of child sexual abuse and exploitation imaginable”, including rape, prostitution, pornography, sexual slavery, assaults and trafficking. One 15-year-old girl in Haiti told how “humanitarian men” exposed themselves and offered her the equivalent of £2 to perform a sex act. “The men call to me in the streets and they ask me to go with them,” said another Haitian girl. “They do this will all of us young girls.” A six-year-old girl described being sexually assaulted and a homeless girl was given a single US dollar by a “man who works for an NGO” before being raped and severely injured, while boys were also reportedly raped. When asked why the abuse was not reported, children said they feared losing aid, did not trust local authorities, did not know who to go to, felt powerless or feared stigma and retaliation. “The people who are raping us and the people in the office are the same people,” said one girl in Haiti.
Oxfam has been reeling since the Times reported last week that several of the charity’s aid workers – including the country director, Roland van Hauwermeiren, had used prostitutes in Haiti while providing humanitarian work, following the 2011 earthquake. The men involved lost their jobs, but Oxfam is accused of covering up the scandal. Further revelations of sexual abuse in Oxfam shops, some against volunteers as young as 14, have emerged, engulfing the charity in a crisis unprecedented in its 76-year history. Many things have been said about Goldring and Oxfam this week, but the charge that they have failed to grasp the gravity of the situation seems absurd. Yet he came close to cancelling this interview, justifiably fretting that his words would be wilfully twisted to do Oxfam yet more damage. “Anything we say is being manipulated: ‘Oxfam’s still making excuses, still trying to justify itself.’
I went on the Today programme on the first day and tried to explain and it totally failed. All it did was fuel the fire.” Every explanation he’s tried to offer has been branded an excuse “and just failed in the court of public opinion. We’ve been savaged.” Even apologies only make matters worse. “I said on TV: ‘Yes, we could have done some things faster,’ and all of a sudden we’ve got two former ministers calling for my resignation. What I felt really clearly is many people haven’t wanted to listen to explanations.” To try again is a risk Goldring worries he may regret, but no one can doubt the courage it took. He talks to me alone, unchaperoned by press officers, and is unguarded and candid. The impression I form is of someone telling the truth: if Goldring has been guilty of anything, I think it might be naivety about the vulnerability of almost any organisation in the febrile public mood of distrust.
Big international investors are holding huge short positions on Italian assets, the CEO of the Italian exchange said on Tuesday, days before the country holds a referendum on constitutional reform that could unseat Prime Minister Matteo Renzi. “There are colossal short positions on Italy from the U.S. and other countries where big investors are based,” said Raffaele Jerusalmi during a conference in Milan. Opinion polls conducted until a blackout period began last week showed the “no” vote comfortably in the lead, raising concerns of a political crisis and fueling market volatility. Renzi has said he would resign if Italians reject the reform.
The Italian referendum is the current hot concern for investors, who are worrying and waiting to see if voters will reject government attempts to reform the country’s political system. Prime Minister Matteo Renzi has staked his reputation and job on the outcome, arguing a change in the legislature will usher in a nimbler, more productive Italy. However some see the predicted rejection of Renzi’s wishes as a potential opportunity for anti-European populist to gain momentum. Jan Randolph, Director of Sovereign Risk at IHS Markit said in an email Friday that worries over a potential European break-up can be measured by Europe’s “fear gauge”: The difference in yield between Italian and German debt.
“The markets are certainly focusing on this ‘spread’ – what we used to call in the old British banking days the ‘country risk spread’ as viewed by the financial markets,” Randolph said. In recent weeks, the yield spread between Italian and German 10-year government bonds has risen by more than 60 points in 60 days. Last week the spread hit a two-and-a-half year high of 188 basis points, however Reuters reported Friday that investors may be short covering as the gap between Italian and German bond yields has narrowed to 167 basis points. Jan Randolph said any blow-out of Italian yields may well be prevented by the poker hand being played by ECB President Mario Draghi’s massive bond-buying program, which many analysts expect to be extended next year.
Is Janet Yellen trying to crash stocks to screw Trump? Ever since the $USD began its bull market run in mid-2014, the Fed, lead by Janet Yellen, has intervened whenever the $USD cleared 98. The reason for this was the following… Over 47% of US corporate sales come from abroad. With the $USD spiking, pushing all other major currencies generally lower, US corporate profits began to implode. As we write this today, profits have fallen to 2012 levels. Note when this whole profit massacre began. Because of this, the Fed has “talked down” the $USD anytime it began to push higher. Until today…
Since it was announced that Trump won the Presidency, the Fed has allowed the $USD to ramp straight up. It is currently over 101…and the Fed hasn’t said a word. So we ask again… is Janet Yellen trying to crash stocks to screw Trump? We all know the Yellen Fed is one of the most political in history with Fed officials openly donating money to the Clinton campaign. Now Trump has won… the $USD soars to 101… and suddenly the Fed is silent? Not one Fed official has appeared to talk about putting off a rate hike or some other statement that might push the $USD lower…
U.S. President-elect Donald Trump spoke by phone with President Tsai Ing-wen of Taiwan, the first such contact between the two sides in nearly four decades, but China dismissed the call as a “petty action” by the self-ruled island it claims as its own. The 10-minute telephone call with Taiwan’s leadership was the first by a U.S. president-elect or president since President Jimmy Carter switched diplomatic recognition from Taiwan to China in 1979, acknowledging Taiwan as part of “one China”. Hours after Friday’s call, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi blamed Taiwan for the exchange, avoiding what could have been a major rift with Washington just before Trump assumes the presidency. “This is just the Taiwan side engaging in a petty action, and cannot change the ‘one China’ structure already formed by the international community,” Wang said at an academic forum in Beijing, state media reported.
“I believe that it won’t change the longstanding ‘one China’ policy of the United States government.” In comments at the same forum, Wang noted how quickly President Xi Jinping and Trump had spoken by telephone after Trump’s victory, and that Trump had praised China as a great country. Wang said the exchange “sends a very positive signal about the future development of Sino-U.S. relations”, according to the Chinese Foreign Ministry’s website. Taiwan was not mentioned in that call, according to an official Chinese transcript. Trump said on Twitter that Tsai had initiated the call he had with the Taiwan president. “The President of Taiwan CALLED ME today to wish me congratulations on winning the Presidency. Thank you!” he said. Alex Huang, a spokesman for Tsai, said: “Of course both sides agreed ahead of time before making contact.”
When everyone heads for the exit at the same time, there’s a risk of injury in the stampede. Chinese bond investors are getting a taste of just how that feels as they scramble to offload their holdings in what could turn out to be a nasty correction. Some investors have already been dumping their government bonds as yields started to rebound from record lows, while others, who only got in recently when yields were around 2.8-2.9%, been holding on in the hope that bond yields will fall back soon. In the secondary market, the yield on the benchmark 10-year Chinese Government Bond (CGB) broke above 3% on Thursday for the first time since early June and was at 2.995% in Friday morning trade, up nearly 15 basis points for the week, the biggest weekly rise since May 2015.
For November as a whole, the yield jumped 8.88%, the biggest monthly gain since October 2010. Treasury futures also plunged this week with March contracts for 10-year CGB and five-year CGB both having their biggest weekly loss since the contracts started trading in June. A Shanghai-based trader with a joint stock bank said he believes the yield on the 10-year CGB could rise as high as 3.2% before falling back. The brutal sell-off has been triggered by a triple whammy – expectations of tighter liquidity conditions and higher inflation on the domestic front, and externally, rising bond yields in the U.S.
A surge in redemptions from worried investors has hit the market hard. One major state-owned bank is said to have redeemed around CNY200 billion from money market funds while the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, the country’s largest commercial bank, is also said to have told fund managers managing some of its money to cut bonds holdings and stockpile cash in line with ICBC’s own liquidity management. Domestic investors have swarmed over China’s bond market like bees around a honey pot over the last couple of years amid a dearth of more attractive investment opportunities as economic growth slowed. The stock market rout in the summer of 2015 only encouraged investors to move more funds to fixed income products.
China, euro zone sovereign debt and the potential fallout from Brexit top the escalating list of concerns for the Bank of England (BOE), according to a report published on Wednesday which warns that risks to global stability have spiked in the past six months. The U.K.’s central bank’s semi-annual Financial Stability Report states, “Vulnerabilities stemming from the global environment and financial markets, which were already elevated, have increased further since July.” China’s burgeoning debt levels and rapid rate of credit expansion are singled out as significant red flags, with the report noting a 100 percentage point spike in the country’s non-financial sector debt relative to GDP since the 2008 financial crisis. The ratio currently stands at around 260% of GDP.
“This is extraordinary leverage for an advanced, let alone, an emerging economy,” the BOE Governor Mark Carney said at a press conference to launch the report. The “near-record” pace of net capital outflows from China during the third quarter and a 3% depreciation in the Chinese renminbi against the U.S. dollar since the publication of the BOE’s July report were also highlighted as reasons for concern. Turning to nearer neighbors, the governor broke down the key risks emanating from some euro area economies into, firstly, existing sovereign debt dynamics and, secondly, threats to the resilience of parts of the trading bloc’s banking system.
Carney noted the vulnerability of elevated sovereign debt levels to a leap in borrowing costs or diminished growth prospects on the back of either trade or political headwinds. Moving even closer to home, the governor raised the looming specter of the U.K.’s impending departure from the EU, noting banks located domestically currently supply over half of the debt and equity issuance from continental firms and account for over 75% of foreign exchange and derivatives activity in the U.K.
Just as market forces were about to push the price of housing down in Australia, the Treasurer stepped in with some new regulation. Phew. Some first home buyer’s nearly snatched a good deal, but luckily the Treasurer was there to protect the property developers from the oversupply their building bonanza created. No issue creates a bigger flood of nonsensical econobabble in Australia than “housing affordability”. It’s a meaningless term engineered for the sole purpose of allowing politicians to pretend they are simultaneously on the side of home buyers and home sellers. What’s remarkable is the willingness of the media and others to play along. Most politicians are adamant that they want petrol, fresh food and health insurance to be less expensive.
We talk about the price of petrol and the price of milk. We don’t talk about “petrol affordability” or “bread affordability” let alone create an index of the price of bread divided by median household income. Talking endlessly about “housing affordability” allows politicians to duck the simple question of whether house prices are “too high”, “too low” or “just right”. The absurdity of this situation was revealed during the federal election campaign when the Coalition attacked the ALP’s plans to reform negative gearing on the basis that such changes would, wait for it, put downward pressure on house prices. Oh, the humanity! The Coalition’s rhetorical solution to the imaginary issue of housing affordability is to reject changes to the tax treatment of investment houses and instead blame environmentalists and state governments for “restricting the supply of housing”.
Of course this week’s redefinition of “second-hand property” by Treasurer Morrison makes a mockery of such a position. Having spent years pretending that increasing the housing supply would make housing “more affordable” the Treasurer has now acted to prevent an increase in apartment supply from pushing apartment prices down. The Coalition playbook makes clear that when it’s not the environmentalists’ fault, it must be the unions’ fault. On cue Malcolm Turnbull recently empathised with the terrible plight of “young Australian couples that can’t afford to buy a house because their costs are being pushed up by union thuggery”. A quick look at the data suggests no such link, but if Donald Trump taught conservatives anything it’s that data is for losers.
While cash is facing several challenges in the euro area with an increasing number of people moving towards cashless payments and digital banking, the reports of the demise of cash are greatly exaggerated, Deutsche Bank has said in its latest research note. “Cash is facing many challenges in the euro area. The ECB has decided to cease production of the €500 ($532) note due to concerns over its facilitation of illicit activities,” the bank said while adding that the cash in circulation is three times more than what it was in 2003.
While many would attribute this to the never-ending stream of money that the central banks have been pumping into the economy through QE and ultra-low interest rates, Deutsche Bank’s Heike Mai believes that most of the increase in cash since 2008 comes from abroad and hoarders. Cash held outside the euro area was worth €80 billion and cash hoarded domestically by the real economy is estimated to be valued at €120 billion. “There are good reasons to believe that cash won’t disappear anytime soon from the euro area. First, it is debatable that a cashless society would mean less crime,” Mai said, adding, that the ratio of damage caused by card fraud to the value of counterfeit notes in circulation is more than 10 to 1.
“Second, the political value of cash should not be underestimated. Some economies like using cash, for example, Germany, Spain, Italy and Austria. The most robust data protection is provided by cash,” Mai, an economist at Deutsche Bank, said in the note. The research note that focuses on Europe argued that by the end of third-quarter of 2016, euro currency in circulation amounted to €1.1 trillion, three times as much as in the first quarter of 2003. While small-value notes such as €5, €10 and €20 are used to a great extent for day-to-day payments, bigger-value notes such as €50 and €100 are used for both payments and cash hoarding.
Iceland’s anti-establishment Pirate Party has been asked by the president to try to form a new government, following October’s snap elections. President Gudni Johannesson made the announcement after talks with Pirates head Birgitta Jonsdottir. The Pirates, who vowed radical reforms, came third in the elections in which no party won an outright majority. Two earlier rounds of coalition talks involving first the Independence Party and then the Left-Greens failed. “Earlier today, I met the leaders of all parties and asked their opinion on who should lead those talks. After that I summoned Birgitta Jonsdottir and handed her the mandate,” President Johannesson said on Friday.
Ms Jonsdottir said afterwards she was “optimistic that we will find a way to work together”. In the elections, the Pirate Party – which was founded in 2012 – more than tripled its seats to 10 in the 63-member parliament. The election was called after Prime Minister Sigmundur Gunnlaugsson quit in April in the wake of the leaked Panama Papers, which revealed the offshore assets of high-profile figures. The Pirates want more political transparency and accountability, free health care, closing tax loopholes and more protection of citizens’ data.
Politicians have exempted themselves from Britain’s new wide-ranging spying laws. The Investigatory Powers Act, which has just passed into law, brings some of the most extreme and invasive surveillance powers ever given to spies in a democratic state. But protections against those spying powers have been given to MPs. Most of the strongest powers in the new law require that those using them must be given a warrant. That applies to people wanting to see someone’s full internet browsing history, for instance, which is one of the things that will be collected under the new law. For most people, that warrant can be issued by a secretary of state. Applications are sent to senior ministers who can then approve either a targeted interception warrant or a targeted examination warrant, depending on what information the agency applying for the warrant – which could be anyone from a huge range of organisations – wants to see.
But for members of parliament and other politicians, extra rules have been introduced. Those warrants must also be approved by the prime minister. That rule applies not only to members of the Westminster parliament but alos politicians in the devolved assembly and members of the European Parliament. The protections afforded to politicians are actually less than they had hoped to be given. Earlier in the process, the only amendment that MPs had submitted was one that would allow extra safeguards for politicians – forcing any request to monitor MP’s communications to go through the speaker of the House of Commons as well as the prime minister.
We live in a society driven by debt. Cars, for example, have become hugely expensive (even on the low end) relative to what people can afford – because of the easy availability of credit. Which is the nice word used to speak about debt, intended to encourage us to get into it. It takes at least $15,000 or so to drive home in a “cheap” new car, once all is said and done. And the “cheap” car will have to be registered, plated and insured. It runs into money. And most new cars cost a lot more money. Which most people haven’t got. So they get debt. A loan. Which, when it becomes commonly resorted to as a way to live beyond one’s means as a lifestyle, drives up the cost of life for everyone. Including those who try to live within their means – or better yet, below them.
When most people (when enough people) are willing – are eager – to go into hock for the next six years in order to have a car with an LCD touchscreen, leather (and heated) seats, six air bags, a six-speaker stereo, electronic climate control AC and power everything – which pretty much every new car now comes standard with – the car companies build cars to satisfy that artificial demand. Artificial because based on economic unreality. That is a good way to think about debt. It is nonexistent wealth. You are promising to pay with money you haven’t earned yet. And maybe won’t. The car market has become like the housing market – which has also been distorted by debt to a cartoonish degree. The typical new construction home is a mansion by 1960s standards.
Not that there’s anything wrong with living in a mansion. Or driving a car with heated leather seats and climate control AC and a six-speaker surround-sound stereo and six air bags and all the rest of it. Provided you can afford it. Most people can’t. Normally, that fact would keep things in check. There would be mansions, of course – and high-end cars, too. But only for those with the high-end incomes necessary to afford them. Everyone else would live within their means. We wouldn’t be living in this economic Potemkin village that appears prosperous but is in fact an economic Jenga Castle that could collapse at any moment. There would be a lot less pressure to “keep up with the Joneses”… as they head toward bankruptcy and foreclosure.
As society heads that way. Like the housing industry, the car industry has ceased building basic and much less expensive cars because of easy and grotesque debt-financing. Which is tragic. There ought to be (and would be) a huge selection of brand-new cars priced under $10,000 were it not for the ready availability of nonexistent wealth (.e., debt and credit). Cars many people could pay cash for.
Earlier today the Kersten Institute for Governance and Public Policy highlighted an updated pension study, released by the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research, which revealed some fairly startling realities about California’s public pension underfunding levels. After averaging $77,700 per household in 2014, the amount of public pension underfunding for the state of California jumped to a staggering $92,748 per household in 2015. But don’t worry, we’re sure pension managers can grow their way out of the problem…hedge fund returns have been stellar recently, right?
Stanford University’s pension tracker database pegs the market value of California’s total pension debt at $1 trillion or $93,000 per California household in 2015. In 2014, California’s total pension debt was calculated at $77,700 per household, but has increased dramatically in response to abysmal investment returns at California’s public pension funds that hover at or below 0% annual returns.
Looking back to 2008, the underfunding levels of California’s public pension have skyrocketed 157% on abysmal asset returns and growing liabilities resulting from lower discount rates. Perhaps this helps shed some light on why CalPERS is having such a difficult time with what should have been an easy decision to lower their long-term return expectations to 6% from 7.5% (see “CalPERS Weighs Pros/Cons Of Setting Reasonable Return Targets Vs. Maintaining Ponzi Scheme”)…$93k per household just seems so much more “manageable” than $150k.
Oddly enough, California isn’t even the worst off when it comes to pension debt as Alaska leads the pack with just over $110,000 per household. Of course, at this point the question isn’t “if” these ponzi schemes will blow up but rather which one will go first? We have our money on Dallas Police and Fire…
Nassim Nicholas Taleb headlined on November 22nd a devastating takedown of U.S. ‘news’ media and academia, «Syria and the Statistics of War», and he began there by exposing the highly honored Harvard fraud, Dr. Steven Pinker, but then went pretty much through the entire U.S. ‘intellectual’ Establishment, including all of its major ‘news’ media, as being untrustworthy on the part of any intelligent person. (Regarding Professor Pinker specifically, Taleb linked to a scientific paper that Taleb had co-authored, which shredded one of Pinker’s highly honored and biggest-selling books. Taleb and his colleague mentioned there an article that had appeared in Britain’s Guardian raising serious questions about Pinker’s work, and they were here offering statistical proof of the fraudulence of that work.)
The scenario of exposing intellectual fraud is so common: the only reason why it’s not better known among the public is that usually the disproofs of highly honored work have no impact, and fail to dislodge the prejudices that the given established fraud has ‘confirmed’. Another good example of that occurred when the University of Massachusetts graduate student Thomas Herndon issued his proof of the fraudulence of the extremely influential economics paper by Kenneth Rogoff and Carmine Rinehart, «Growth in a Time of Debt», which had been widely cited by congressional Republicans and other conservatives as a main ‘justification’ for imposing draconian economic austerity on the U.S. and other nations during the recovery from the 2008 economic crash.
Years later, that graduate student is still a graduate student (i.e., unemployed), while Kenneth Rogoff remains, as he was prior to his having been exposed: one of Harvard’s most prominent professors of economics, and a member of the Group of 30 — the world’s 30 most influential and powerful economists. Carmen Rinehart likewise retains her position also as a Harvard Professor. Previously, the Harvard Economics Department had guided communist Russia into a crony-capitalist (or fascist) ‘democracy’, but then Vladimir Putin took over Russia and got rid of the worst excesses of Harvard’s «capitalism» and so became hated by the U.S. aristocracy and its ‘news’ media — hated for having tried to establish Russia’s national independence, Russia’s independence from the U.S. aristocracy (which expected, and still craves, to control Russia).
And now after Donald Trump’s victory against the super-neoconservative hater of Russia, Hillary Clinton, the U.S. Establishment, through its voices such as the Washington Post, is trying to smear — like Joseph R. McCarthy smeared America’s non-fascists back in the 1950s — the tiny independent newsmedia that had been reporting truthfully about U.S.-Russian relations and America’s coups and invasions trying to weaken and ultimately to conquer Russia even if that means nuclear war.
The Iraqi army, backed by US-led airstrikes, is trying to capture east Mosul at the same time as the Syrian army and its Shia paramilitary allies are fighting their way into east Aleppo. An estimated 300 civilians have been killed in Aleppo by government artillery and bombing in the last fortnight, and in Mosul there are reportedly some 600 civilian dead over a month. Despite these similarities, the reporting by the international media of these two sieges is radically different. In Mosul, civilian loss of life is blamed on Isis, with its indiscriminate use of mortars and suicide bombers, while the Iraqi army and their air support are largely given a free pass. Isis is accused of preventing civilians from leaving the city so they can be used as human shields.
Contrast this with Western media descriptions of the inhuman savagery of President Assad’s forces indiscriminately slaughtering civilians regardless of whether they stay or try to flee. The UN chief of humanitarian affairs, Stephen O’Brien, suggested this week that the rebels in east Aleppo were stopping civilians departing – but unlike Mosul, the issue gets little coverage. One factor making the sieges of east Aleppo and east Mosul so similar, and different, from past sieges in the Middle East, such as the Israeli siege of Beirut in 1982 or of Gaza in 2014, is that there are no independent foreign journalists present. They are not there for the very good reason that Isis imprisons and beheads foreigners while Jabhat al-Nusra, until recently the al-Qaeda affiliate in Syria, is only a shade less bloodthirsty and generally holds them for ransom.
These are the two groups that dominate the armed opposition in Syria as a whole. In Aleppo, though only about 20 per cent of the 10,000 fighters are Nusra, it is they – along with their allies in Ahrar al-Sham – who are leading the resistance. Unsurprisingly, foreign journalists covering developments in east Aleppo and rebel-held areas of Syria overwhelmingly do so from Lebanon or Turkey. A number of intrepid correspondents who tried to do eyewitness reporting from rebel-held areas swiftly found themselves tipped into the boots of cars or otherwise incarcerated.
Experience shows that foreign reporters are quite right not to trust their lives even to the most moderate of the armed opposition inside Syria. But, strangely enough, the same media organisations continue to put their trust in the veracity of information coming out of areas under the control of these same potential kidnappers and hostage takers. They would probably defend themselves by saying they rely on non-partisan activists, but all the evidence is that these can only operate in east Aleppo under license from the al-Qaeda-type groups.
U.S. military veterans were building barracks on Friday at a protest camp in North Dakota to support thousands of activists who have squared off against authorities in frigid conditions to oppose a multibillion-dollar pipeline project near a Native American reservation. Veterans volunteering to be human shields have been arriving at the Oceti Sakowin camp near the small town of Cannon Ball, where they will work with protesters who have spent months demonstrating against plans to route the Dakota Access Pipeline beneath a lake near the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, organizers said. The Native Americans and protesters say the $3.8 billion pipeline threatens water resources and sacred sites.
Some of the more than 2,100 veterans who signed up on the Veterans Stand for Standing Rock group’s Facebook page are at the camp, with hundreds more expected during the weekend. Tribal leaders asked the veterans, who aim to form a wall in front of police to protect the protesters, to avoid confrontation with authorities and not get arrested. Wesley Clark Jr, a writer whose father is retired U.S. Army General Wesley Clark, met with law enforcement on Friday to tell them that potentially 3,500 veterans would join the protest and the demonstrations would be carried out peacefully, protest leaders said. The plan is for veterans to gather in Eagle Butte, a few hours away, and then travel by bus to the main protest camp, organizers said, adding that a big procession is planned for Monday.
[..] The protesters’ voices have also been heard by companies linked to the pipeline, including banks that protesters have targeted for their financing of the pipeline. Wells Fargo said in a Thursday letter it would meet with Standing Rock elders before Jan. 1 “to discuss their concerns related to Wells Fargo’s investment” in the project. There have been violent confrontations near the route of the pipeline with state and local law enforcement, who used tear gas, rubber bullets and water hoses on the protesters, even in freezing weather. The number of protesters in recent weeks has topped 1,000. State officials on Monday ordered them to leave the snowy camp, which is on U.S. Army Corps of Engineers land, citing harsh weather, but on Wednesday they said they would not enforce the order. “There is an element there of people protesting who are frightening,” North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem said on Thursday. “It’s time for them to go home.”
Japan’s Nikkei index plummeted more than 950 points on Tuesday, its biggest intraday loss since May 2013, and the yen briefly soared to a 14-month high against the US dollar, as continued fears over the health of the global economy saw a continuation of the previous day’s selloff in Europe and the US. The Nikkei dived 5.1% to 16,132.25 in morning trading and extended losses into the afternoon, while Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 fell 2.6% to 4,946.70. Markets were also down in the Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand and New Zealand. The MSCI’s index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan fell 1% and might have fallen further had several Asian markets not been closed.
Markets in China, Hong Kong, Taiwan and South Korea were closed for Lunar New Year holidays. Most markets in the region will re-open from Wednesday, with Chinese markets returning next week. The volatility affecting global markets last month appears set to continue amid concern about Chinese economic growth, falling oil prices and speculation that the US federal reserve could change course with interest rates. “The combination of concerns that the United States could be heading toward a recession and the global stock sell-off is curbing risk appetite and is sending investors to the safe-haven yen,” Takuya Takahashi at Daiwa Securities told Kyodo News.
After hovering around the 117-yen line on Monday, the Japanese currency briefly rose to the upper 114 zone to its strongest level against the dollar since November 2014. Investors regard the yen as a “save haven” currency when global markets are hit by the kind of turmoil witnessed in recent weeks. The yen is expected to make further gains – a trend that eats into the repatriated profits of Japanese auto and other exporters. Three-month dollar/yen implied volatility – which indicates how much currency movement is expected in the months ahead – reached 12.137% its highest since September 2013. Responding to the yen’s rise, Japan’s finance minister, Taro Aso, told reporters: “It is clear that recent moves in the market have been rough. We will continue to carefully monitor developments in the currency market.”
Sovereign bonds surged, sending the Japanese benchmark 10-year yield below zero for the first time, as investors seeking the safest assets gorged on government debt. Treasury yields dropped to a one-year low in the rush to refuge from a worldwide stock rout. Traders pared the odds the Federal Reserve will raise interest rates this year to 30%, before Chair Janet Yellen begins her two-day testimony to Congress on Wednesday. The yield on the Bank of America Merrill Lynch World Sovereign Bond Index tumbled to 1.29%, the least in data that go back to 2005. “It’s almost like a panic,” said Hideo Shimomura, the chief fund investor in Tokyo at Mitsubishi UFJ Kokusai Asset Management. “The flight to quality is exaggerated.”
The benchmark 10-year Treasury yield tumbled six basis points to 1.69% as of 2:31 p.m. in Tokyo, according to Bloomberg Bond Trader data. The price of the 2.25% security due in November 2025 rose 17/32, or $5.31 per $1,000 face amount, to 105. Japan’s 10-year yield fell to minus 0.01%, an unprecedented low for such a maturity in a Group-of-Seven economy. Australia’s dropped to 2.38%, a level not seen since April. Investors rushed to bonds as the MSCI Asia Pacific Index of stocks slid 2.8% and Japan’s Topix Index plunged 5.7%. “It’s hard to find a reason to short Treasuries,” said Tomohisa Fujiki at BNP Paribas in Tokyo, referring to bets that a security will fall. Turmoil “is now affecting equity markets in developed countries as well — and commodities and emerging markets have not stabilized yet.” BNP is one of the 22 primary dealers that underwrite the U.S. debt.
The yield on Japan’s benchmark 10-year government bonds fell below zero for the first time, an unprecedented level for a Group-of-Seven economy, as global financial turmoil and the Bank of Japan’s adoption of negative interest rates drive demand for the notes. The 10-year yield has tumbled from 0.22% before the BOJ surprised markets with the decision on Jan. 29 to introduce a minus 0.1% rate on some of the reserves financial institutions park at the central bank. It fell 7 1/2 basis points to a record minus 0.035% as of 3:05 p.m. in Tokyo. Japanese bonds are also climbing as sovereign securities rally worldwide. Global stocks have dropped 10% this year on concern growth is slowing in China, and as slumping oil prices undermine policy makers efforts to revive inflation.
About 29% of the outstanding debt in the Bloomberg Global Sovereign Bond index was yielding less than zero as of 5 p.m. in New York on Monday. Swiss 3% notes due in 2018 were offering the lowest yield in the index, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. “It was just a matter of time before 10-year yields went negative, so it wasn’t a surprise,” said Yusuke Ikawa at UBS. Five-year yields dropped seven basis points to minus 0.25%, while two-year yields slid five basis points to minus 0.245%. Both were record lows. A basis point is 0.01 percentage point. The expected price volatility for Japanese debt over a 60-day period soared to 3.13% on Monday, the highest level since June, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.
U.S. bank stocks and bonds took a pounding on Monday as recession fears compounded concern about their exposure to the energy sector and expectations that global interest rates are unlikely to rise quickly. The S&P 500 financial index, already the worst performing sector this year, fell 2.6% and now stands more than 20% from its July 2015 high, confirming the sector is in the grip of a bear market. Shares of Morgan Stanley slid 6.9% in their largest one-day drop since November 2012, while rival Goldman Sachs fell 4.6%. Both stocks closed at their lowest since the spring of 2013. Meanwhile, bonds issued by U.S. banks extended their decline, with the yield premium demanded by investors to hold these securities, rather than safer U.S. Treasury debt, climbing to the highest in three-and-a-half years, according to BofA Fixed Income Index data.
“Investors’ attitudes seem to be worsening relative to the likelihood of a global recession. I think that’s what financials are reflecting – that their net interest margins are going to be further compressed under collapsing (sovereign) bond yields,” said Mark Luschini, chief investment strategist at Janney Montgomery Scott in Philadelphia. Yields on sovereign bonds from so-called safe-haven issuers such as the United States, Germany and Japan have tumbled recently as investors increasingly doubt central banks in these countries will be able to raise interest rates any time soon. The U.S. Federal Reserve late last year pulled off its first rate increase in nearly a decade, but interest rate futures markets now assign just a 1-in-4 chance of another one this year. And the Bank of Japan last month cut rates into negative territory for some bank reserves.
Monday’s drop in U.S. bank stocks follows concern over stress in the financial sector in Europe, where the cost of insuring the European financial sector’s senior debt against default climbed to its highest level since late 2013. Credit default swaps on several U.S. banks have followed suit. The cost for a five-year CDS contract on Morgan Stanley debt, for instance, has rocketed by more than 27% since last Thursday and now stands at its highest since October 2013, data from Markit shows. Citigroup’s CDS, likewise, is at the highest since June 2013.
Asian share markets were scorched on Tuesday as stability concerns put a torch to European bank stocks and sent investors stampeding to only the safest of safe-haven assets. As fear overwhelmed greed, yields on longer-term Japanese bonds fell below zero for the first time, the yen surged to a 15-month peak and gold reached its most precious since June. Japanese Finance Minister Taro Aso felt moved enough to warn the yen’s rise was “rough”, something of an understatement as the Nikkei nosedived 5.4%. MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan fell 1.2%, with Australian shares hitting 2-1/2-year closing low, and would have been lower if not for holidays in many centres.
Spread-betters see another weak session in European shares, where German DAX is seen falling 0.7% and Britain’s FTSE 0.5%. S&P 500 e-mini futures fell more than 1% at one point. “Sentiment towards risk assets remained extremely bearish and price action reflected a market that may be capitulating,” said Jo Masters, a senior economist at ANZ. All of which magnified the stakes for U.S. Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen’s testimony this week. “She needs to come across as optimistic without being too hawkish and cautious without being negative,” said Masters. “Hawkishness or dovishness could easily exacerbate the current sell-off, tightening financial conditions further.”
Wall Street pared losses but still ended deep in the red. The Dow lost 1.1%, while the S&P 500 fell 1.42% and the Nasdaq 1.82%. The rout began in Europe on Monday, when the FTSEurofirst 300 index shed 3.4% to its lowest since late 2013, led by a near 6% dive in the banking sector. Deutsche Bank alone sank 9.5% as concerns mounted about its ability to maintain bond payments. Late Monday, the German bank said it has “sufficient” reserves to make due payments this year on AT1 securities. The cost of insuring bank debt against default also climbed to its highest since late 2013. Borrowing costs in Spain, Portugal and Italy jumped as investors demanded a fatter risk premium over safer German paper, where two-year yields hit record lows at minus 52 basis points.
Last year’s sure thing in credit markets is quickly becoming this year’s nightmare for bond investors. The riskiest European bank debt generated returns of about 8% last year, according to BofAML index data, beating every type of credit investment globally. In less than six weeks this year, those gains have been all but wiped out, even after interest payments. Investors are increasingly concerned that weak earnings and a global market rout will make it harder for banks to pay the interest on at least some of these securities, or to buy them back as soon as investors had hoped. The bonds allow banks to skip interest payments without defaulting, and they turn into equity in times of stress. Deutsche Bank may struggle to pay the interest on these securities next year, a report from independent research firm CreditSights earlier on Monday said. The bank took the unusual step of saying that it has enough capacity to pay coupons for the next two years.
“The worries about these bonds represent real fears that the European banking system may be weaker and more vulnerable to slowing growth than a lot of people originally thought,” said Gary Herbert at Brandywine Global Investment Management. “It’s the epicenter of growth concerns globally. And it doesn’t look pretty,” he added. Money managers’ concerns are spreading even to safer bank bonds, underscoring how investors are running away from risk across a broad range of assets now, from stocks to commodities to corporate bonds. The cost of protecting against defaults on safer U.S. and European financial debt known as senior unsecured notes has jumped to the highest level since 2013. European banks are looking less solid since their last earnings reports.
Deutsche Bank for example last month posted its first full-year loss since 2008, and its shares have plunged. Credit Suisse’s shares plunged to their lowest level since 1991 after the Swiss bank posted its biggest quarterly loss since the crisis. Banks have issued about €91 billion of the riskiest notes, called additional Tier 1 bonds, since April 2013. The problem is the securities are untested and if a troubled bank fails to redeem them at the first opportunity or halts coupon payments investors may jump ship, sparking a wider selloff in corporate credit markets. “It’s the first thing that gets cut from portfolios,” said David Butler, a portfolio manager at Rogge Global Partners, which oversees about $35 billion of assets. “When the wider credit market turns, it leaves investors exposed.”
Britain is extremely unlikely to face an economic recession over the next two years and is on safer ground than any other major country in the developed world, according to a new crisis-study by Goldman Sachs. The US investment bank said the global stock market rout and the credit tremors this year are sending off false signals, insisting that underlying indicators of economic health show little sign of a sudden rupture in Europe, the US or across the OECD bloc of rich states. An array of “alarm” indicators – based on the experience of 20 countries since 1970 – suggest that the current business cycle is still in full swing and far from exhaustion, even if risks have been ratcheting up over recent months. Credit ratios are high but they have not been spiking higher in most OECD states, and there is still plenty of slack left in the economy.
This allows central banks to take their time before having to slam on the brakes – the time-honoured cause of recessions. Jan Hatzius, Goldman’s chief US economist, cited a string of episodes where markets were gripped by fear and emotion yet the storm passed without doing much damage. These included the 1987 stock market crash, the 1994 bond rout, Mexico’s Tequila crisis, the failure of the giant hedge fund Long-Term Capital Management and the Asian crisis in 1998, the corporate credit squeeze from 2002-2003 at the onset of the Iraq War and the eurozone sovereign debt crisis. “In each case, at least some financial markets were priced for significant recession risk, if not an outright slump,” he said. Yet Goldman cautioned that it would be a “grave error” to ignore the latest market tantrum altogether.
The US Federal Reserve was able to slash interest rates and flush the international financial system with liquidity to weather the 1987 and 1998 storms, something that would be much harder to pull off today. Mounting worry over China – and its linkages through the commodity nexus – has put everybody’s nerves on edge this time. “Financial markets now signal a high probability of another recession. High-yield spreads are at levels almost never seen outside of recessions,” said Mr Hatzius. “The message from the equity market is less clear-cut, but there are only a few non-recessionary instances over the past three decades in which the S&P 500 (index of US equities) performed as poorly as it did over the past year,” he said. That said, Britain appears rock-solid under the Goldman Sachs model with a mere 3pc risk of losing its footing over the next eight quarters, followed by Sweden, Denmark and South Korea.
Shares in Chesapeake Energy were halted in mid-morning trading after selling off more than 50% to new lows on a report from Debtwire that the company had hired restructuring specialists Kirkland & Ellis . Seeking to stem the panic, Chesapeake issued a statement saying it “has no plans to pursue bankruptcy” and that Kirkland & Ellis had been one the company’s law firms since 2010. Chesapeake also reportedly hired restructuring specialists Evercore Partners back in December. After trading resumed, shares recovered some of their ground, jumping from $1.50 to $2.25, though still off 27% on the day so far. At these levels, all of Chesapeake’s equity could be had for $1.4 billion. Shares traded above $30 in 2014, and north of $60 in 2008, when natural gas prices hit record highs.
Naturally, holders of Chesapeake debt are shooting first and asking questions later. Its nearest-term bond matures March 15; it traded as high as 95 cents on the dollar late last week, but plunged this morning to 73.75 cents. After the announcement the bonds recovered above 80 cents, according to FINRA data. Investors are concerned that Chesapeake will be unwilling or unable to roll the debt. According to a report this morning from Troubled Company Reporter, some of Chesapeake’s longer dated issues are trading below 30 cents. Chesapeake has been looking for options to improve liquidity. Late last year amended its $4 billion bank revolver, changing it from an unsecured line to secured. It also did a distressed-debt-exchange offer, taking in $3.8 billion in notes in exchange for $2.4 billion in second-lien debt. It recently canceled dividend payments on its preferred stock.
A big problem for Chesapeake and many other exploration and production companies: their oil and gas hedges are rolling off, meaning that the little protection they used to have against low commodity prices is evaporating. As billionaire natural gas trader John Arnold tweeted this morning: “The wave of E&P bankruptcies starts now. CHK alone has nearly $1 billion less in hedging gains in ’16 than ’15 at today’s prices.” I talked to a well-placed banker over the weekend who says restructuring advisors at shops like Lazard and Kirkland & Ellis had been advising his clients to begin drawing down any cash remaining on their bank revolvers in order to maximize liquidity to get them through the next few months. Basically they’re maxxing out their credit cards before the banks can cut them off. That’s exactly what Linn Energy said last week that it had done; with more than $4 billion in credit facilities maxxed. Shares in LINE fell 50% on Friday and are off another 24% today. Linn’s debt is trading below 20 cents.
About 150 oil and gas companies tracked by energy consultant IHS Inc. may go bust as a supply glut pressures prices and punishes revenues. The number of companies at risk is more than twice the 60 producers that have already filed for bankruptcy, Bob Fryklund, chief upstream analyst at IHS, said in an interview. A further shake out would help stimulate deals that have been on hold because buyers and sellers have disagreed on asset values, he said. Oil has collapsed about 70% over the past two years as U.S. shale producers boosted output and OPEC flooded the market with crude to drive out higher-cost suppliers. More bankruptcies would be one signal that energy prices have reached a bottom and would help kick off deals for the $230 billion worth of oil and gas assets currently up for sale, according to Fryklund.
“Nobody is buying because there is a mismatch between expectations,” Fryklund said in an interview in Tokyo. “We need to close that gap. And the way that that will happen is the rest of those bankruptcies will go forward.” Companies that plan to make investments are likely to wait for prices to gain for six months because they want to be confident in a recovery, according to Fryklund. “It usually happens as we begin to come back up on price,” he said. “There is always a little lag on timing.” The global oil surplus that fueled crude’s decline to a 12-year low will shift to a deficit as output falls and a new bull market begins before the year is out, Goldman Sachs said in January.
U.S. production will drop by 620,000 barrels a day, or about 7%, from the first quarter to the fourth, according to the Energy Information Administration. Low prices are also spurring greater efficiency, according to IHS. Operating costs on a per barrel basis declined about 35% last year in North America and have dropped about 20% globally, according to the consultant. Crude output from North Dakota rose through most of last year and some producers in the Permian Basin in western Texas can break-even drilling oil at $35 a barrel, he said.
The storage tanks at Cushing, Okla., the delivery point for the New York Mercantile Exchange crude contract, are edging closer to their limits, raising a new set of problems for an industry that has already suffered from a 70% drop in prices in the past year and a half. Cushing, which represents about 13% of the nation’s oil storage, has a working capacity of about 73.014 million barrels of crude oil, according to data from Sept. 2015, the latest available from the EIA. As of the week ended Jan. 29, there was 64.174 million barrels of oil in storage at Cushing, so it is at about 88% full. “Where inventories count the most—at the Nymex terminal complex in Cushing, Oklahoma—storage is already at a critical level,” said Stephen Schork, in The Schork Report published Monday.
“Approximately 6 out of 7 barrels available storage capacity at the Nymex hub are now full.” The report highlighted an article from Reuters that discussed delays in crude deliveries from storage tanks at Cushing because there wasn’t enough room to drain existing tanks to blend oil to meet West Texas Intermediate crude specifications. Cushing serves as a blending station, where crude oil from the midcontinent is mixed to the specific grades required by different refineries, according to StateImpact Oklahoma. “We soon might be in a situation that we have so much oil, that we don’t have enough of the right kind of oil,” Schork said.
But that’s not the only problem. Richard Hastings, macro strategist at Seaport Global Securities, said building more tanks would take time and there would be questions over how the cost of tanks would be shared across the supply chain. Meanwhile, the market is dealing with a “constant high volume” of crude oil coming from the floating storage at the Gulf Coast, the Canadian crudes coming by rail to the U.S. and domestic production, said Hastings. “If the volumes get too high, then the intermediate delivery steps—moving large volumes from tanks to pipelines—could be difficult if the local hub’s pipeline capacity is constrained,” he said.
Back in the 1970’s as recession gripped the world for a decade, stocks stagnated and commodities crashed, investor Jim Rogers made a fortune. His understanding of markets, capital flows and timing is legendary. As crisis struck in late 2008, he did it again, often recommending gold and silver to those looking for wealth preservation strategies – move that would have paid of multi-fold when precious metals hit all time highs in 2011. He warned that the crash would lead to massive job losses, dependence on government bailouts, and unprecedented central bank printing on a global scale. Now, Rogers says that investors around the world are realizing that the jig is up. Stocks are over bloated and central banks will have little choice but to take action again. But this time, says Rogers in his latest interview with CrushTheStreet.com, there will be no stopping it and people all over the world are going to feel the pain, including in China and the United States.
We’re all going to suffer… I can think of very few places that won’t suffer. But most people are going to suffer the next time around. Central banks will panic. They will do whatever they can to save the markets. It’s artificial… it won’t work… there comes a time when no matter how much money you have, the market has more money. [..] I don’t know if they’ll even call it QE (Quantitative Easing) in the future… who knows what they’ll call it to disguise it… they’re going to try whatever they can… printing more money or lowering interest rates or buying more assets… but unfortunately, no matter how much P.R. or whitewashing they use, the market knows this is over and we’re not going to play this game anymore.
The entire world is about to get hammered and the average person on the street is the one who will pay the price, as is usually the case. We can expect more losses in markets, more losses in jobs and more losses to freedom as governments and central banks point the finger at everyone but themselves.
New Zealand farmer Ian Diprose used to count on the dairy industry for most of his income. Today, he relies on tourism. As plunging milk prices push dairy farms into the red and hurt rural businesses, Diprose and wife Joy are making more money accommodating tourists than other farmers’ cows. That’s because their grazing property in Waikato, New Zealand’s dairying heartland, is about 16 kilometers (10 miles) from Hobbiton, a life-sized imitation of Bilbo Baggins’ Shire created for Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings and Hobbit movies. “A lot of the people who come through here are Hobbiton-crazy,” said Diprose, 73, whose De Preaux Lodge in Matamata offers bed, breakfast, a home-cooked meal and an authentic New Zealand farm experience for NZ$175 ($120) a night. “In our little town, we have something like 30 cafes or places to eat because of the tourists coming through.”
The Diproses started offering accommodation five years ago as a hobby to augment income from agisting cattle. Today, it’s their main business. Four out of five dairy farmers in New Zealand, the world’s biggest dairy exporter, will operate at a loss this season as the global slump in milk prices enters its third year, according to the central bank. That’s curbing farmers’ spending and damping economic growth, even as a tourism boom helps to soften the blow. “I’ve reduced my grazing prices to one of my customers quite drastically because she’s a young farmer and I know she’s struggling,” said Diprose, who has two sons dairying. “The impact it’s having on them is crippling. The financial situation of the dairy farmers, I weigh that up every day in my heart.” As farmers tighten their belts, demand for fertilizer to veterinary services has fallen, and retailers in rural towns are feeling the pinch.
At Giltrap AgriZone, which sells hay balers and tractors at three outlets around Waikato, sales are down 30% from a year ago, said Managing Director Andrew Giltrap. “We’re on a roller coaster and we just have to ride it out,” he said. New Zealand, once known as the country with 10 times more sheep than people, has stepped up investment in dairy farming in the past decade. The nation now boasts 5 million cows, more than its 4.5 million human population, while sheep numbers have declined 26% since 2006 to 29.5 million. The strategy made sense when milk prices surged to a record in 2007 and neared that peak again in 2013. Since then, a global oversupply and waning demand for milk powder from a slumping China have seen prices crash. With plunging oil prices now sapping milk purchases by Russia and other energy-producing nations, dairy prices are approaching the 12-year low they hit in August.
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan threatened in November to flood Europe with migrants if EU leaders did not offer him a better deal to help manage the Middle East refugee crisis, a Greek news website said on Monday. Publishing what it said were minutes of a tense meeting last November, the euro2day.gr financial news website revealed deep mutual irritation and distrust in talks between Erdogan and the EU’s two top officials, Jean-Claude Juncker and Donald Tusk. The EU officials were trying to enlist Ankara’s help in stemming an influx of Syrian refugees and migrants into Europe. Over a million arrived last year, most crossing the narrow sea gap between Turkey and islands belonging to EU member Greece.
Tusk’s European Council and Juncker’s European Commission declined to confirm or deny the authenticity of the document, and Erdogan’s office in Ankara had no immediate comment. The account of the meeting, in English, was produced in facsimile on the website. It does not state when or where the meeting took place, but it appears to have been on Nov. 16 in Antalya, Turkey, where the three met after a G20 summit there. “We can open the doors to Greece and Bulgaria anytime and we can put the refugees on buses … So how will you deal with refugees if you don’t get a deal? Kill the refugees?” Erdogan was quoted in the text as telling the EU officials. It also quoted him as demanding €6 billion over two years. When Juncker made clear only half that amount was on offer, he said Turkey didn’t need the EU’s money anyway.
The EU eventually agreed a €3 billion fund to improve conditions for refugees in Turkey, revive Ankara’s long-stalled accession talks and accelerate visa-free travel for Turks in exchange for Ankara curbing the numbers of migrants pouring into neighboring Greece. In heated exchanges, Erdogan often interrupted Juncker and Tusk, the purported minutes show, accusing the EU of deceiving Turkey and Juncker personally of being disrespectful to him.The Turkish leader was also quoted as telling Juncker, a former prime minister of tiny Luxembourg, to show more respect to the 80-million-strong Turkey. “Luxembourg is just like a little town in Turkey,” he was quoted as saying.The tense dialogue highlighted the depth of mutual suspicion at a time when the EU is banking on Turkish help to alleviate its worst migration crisis since World War Two.
The EU says the flow of people from Turkey, which hosts more than 2.5 million Syrian refugees, has not decreased in any significant way since the bloc’s joint summit with Ankara in November, when they had agreed the fund for refugees there.The report prompted a member of the European Parliament from the Greek centrist party To Potami to ask the European Commission to confirm the purported talks.”If the relevant dialogues between the EU officials and the Turkish President are true, it seems that there are aspects of the deal between Ankara and the EU which were concealed on purpose,” Miltos Kyrkos said in the question he submitted to the Commission. “We want immediately an answer on whether these revelations are true and where the Commission’s legitimacy to negotiate, using Turkey’s accession course as a trump card, is coming from,” Kyrkos said.
At least 35 people have died after two boats carrying refugees sank off Turkey’s Aegean coast, according to reports. The Turkish coastguard said 24 drowned when a boat capsized in the Bay of Edremit, near the Greek island of Lesbos, while the Dogan news agency reported that the bodies of 11 people were found after a separate accident further south, near the Aegean resort of Dikili. The deaths came as Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, met the Turkish prime minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, for more talks on reducing the influx of refugees to Europe.
Turkey is central to Merkel s diplomatic efforts to reduce the flow. Germany saw an unprecedented 1.1 million asylum seekers arrive last year, many of them fleeing conflicts in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. In her weekly video message on Saturday, Merkel said European Union countries agree that the bloc needs to protect its external borders better, and that that is why she is seeking a solution with Turkey. She added that, if Europe wants to prevent smuggling, “we must be prepared to take in quotas of refugees legally and bear our part of the task”. “I don t think Europe can keep itself completely out of this”, Merkel said.