Aug 292019
 
 August 29, 2019  Posted by at 9:42 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  4 Responses »


Odilon Redon Two trees 1875

 

Boris Johnson Sparks Outrage After Forcing Suspension Of Parliament (AFP)
1.2 Million Britons Sign Petition To Stop Proroguing Of Parliament (G.)
The Queen’s Active Role in the Right Wing Coup (Craig Murray)
London Homeowners Are Panic Selling Homes Ahead Of Brexit Deadline (ZH)
The High Price of Dollar Safety (Coppola)
Mnuchin Says US Seriously Considering Ultra-Long Bonds (R.)
FBI Studies Two Broken Cameras Outside Cell Where Epstein Died (R.)
Hong Kong Police Ban Mass Protest Over Safety Fears (AFP)
Chinese Troop Movement Into Hong Kong Prompts Unease (G.)
Fear Stalks Cathay Staff After Hong Kong Protest Sackings (AFP)
New Lip-Reading CCTV Will Have People Fall Silent In Public (ZH)
All 4 Carter Page FISA Warrants Were Illegally Obtained – Joe diGenova (WE)
The G-7 Blues (Kunstler)

 

 

Courts.

Boris Johnson Sparks Outrage After Forcing Suspension Of Parliament (AFP)

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson sparked fury among pro-Europeans and MPs opposed to a no-deal Brexit by forcing the suspension of parliament weeks before Britain’s EU departure date. The pound slid on the surprise news Wednesday, which opponents branded a “coup” and a “declaration of war” but Johnson claimed was necessary to allow him to pursue a “bold and ambitious” new domestic agenda. It came a day after opposition parties vowed to seek legislative changes to prevent a no-deal Brexit. Queen Elizabeth II approved the request to end what has been the longest session of parliament in nearly 400 years in the second week of September and reopen it on October 14 — just over two weeks before Brexit.

Thousands of people protested in London, Manchester, Edinburgh and other cities, while an online petition decrying the decision had garnered more than 1.1 million signatures by early Thursday. At the biggest rally, crowds gathered near parliament in London chanting “stop the coup” and waving EU flags. “Parliament will have the opportunity to debate the government’s overall programme, and approach to Brexit,” Johnson, who leads the Conservative party, vowed in a letter to MPs. However, his decision incensed lawmakers vehemently against Britain leaving the EU without a deal on October 31.

Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the main opposition Labour Party, denounced the move as “a smash-and-grab against democracy” and reiterated he may call a no-confidence vote in Johnson’s government, which commands a majority of just one seat. Former chancellor Philip Hammond also pledged to keep fighting against no deal. “It would be a constitutional outrage if parliament were prevented from holding the government to account at a time of national crisis,” he said. US President Donald Trump weighed into the row by praising Johnson as “great” and claiming it would be “very hard” for Corbyn to topple him in a no-confidence vote. The Labour leader shot back, tweeting Johnson was “a compliant Prime Minister who will hand Britain’s public services and protections over to US corporations in a free trade deal”.

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Bit late perhaps?

1.2 Million Britons Sign Petition To Stop Proroguing Of Parliament (G.)

A petition calling on the government not to prorogue parliament has already been signed by more than 1.2 million people. It was launched on Tuesday by Mark Johnston, a pro-EU campaigner from Reigate in Surrey, a day before Boris Johnson announced his request to suspend parliament. The text of the petition reads: “Parliament must not be prorogued or dissolved unless and until the article 50 period has been sufficiently extended or the UK’s intention to withdraw from the EU has been cancelled.” By early afternoon on Wednesday it had already attracted more than 100,000 signatories, passing the threshold to be considered for a debate in parliament.[..] It is the fastest-growing parliamentary petition since more than 6 million people signed a statement calling for article 50 to be revoked earlier this year.

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Craig Murray is Scottish.

The Queen’s Active Role in the Right Wing Coup (Craig Murray)

Our obsequious media is actively perpetuating the myth than the monarch can do no wrong, and is apolitical. In fact the monarchy has been active and absolutely central to the seizure of power from the Westminster parliament in a right wing coup. Yesterday’s collaboration at Balmoral between the Queen and Jacob Rees Mogg is only the latest phase. The monarch appoints the UK Prime Minister. The convention is that this must be the person who can command the support of the majority in the House of Commons. That does not necessarily have to be from a single party, it can be via a coalition or pact with other parties, but the essential point, established since Hanoverian times, is that the individual must have a majority in the Commons.

The very appointment of Boris Johnson by Elizabeth Saxe Coburg Gotha was a constitutional outrage. Johnson may have been selected by Conservative Party members, but that is not the qualification to be PM. Johnson very plainly did not command a majority in the House of Commons, proven by the fact that still at no stage has he demonstrated that he does. Johnson’s flagship policy was always No Deal Brexit. Contrary to the monarchist propaganda spewed out across the entire MSM, not only is it untrue that the Queen had “no constitutional choice” but to appoint Johnson, the Queen had a clear constitutional duty not to appoint a Prime Minister whose flagship policy had already been specifically voted down time and again by the House of Commons.

The Queen has now doubled down on this original outrage by proroguing the Westminster parliament in conspiracy with old Etonians Rees Mogg and Johnson, specifically so that the House of Commons cannot vote down Johnson. The monarchy will always be an extremely useful institution in promoting the political aims of the upper classes, not least because of the ludicrous media promulgation of its infallibility. When you have former Prime Minister John Major, senior Tories like Philip Hammond and Michael Heseltine, and the Speaker of the House of Commons himself all talking of “consitutional outrage”, it is plainly preposterous to insist that the monarchy cannot, by definition, have done anything wrong.

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How much panic will we see in the next 2 months? How much protest, violence?

London Homeowners Are Panic Selling Homes Ahead Of Brexit Deadline (ZH)

The pound sterling has lost nearly 10% of its value in the last 120 days, as a no-deal Brexit has become more likely. The Financial Times Stock Exchange 100 Index, also called the FTSE 100 Index, has fallen into a bear market in the same period. Fear is spreading across the United Kingdom, also affecting the real estate market. Nested, a London-based “data-driven” real estate firm, is reporting 29% of London homeowners are slashing their asking prices ahead of Brexit’s Oct. 31 deadline, reported Property Reporter. The new report shows over £2 billion ($2.43 billion) of price cuts have so far occurred in the London Metropolitan Region ahead of the deadline.


About 11% of the listings in London (12,078) have seen at least £37,800 ($46,166) cut from the initial list price. Top areas of where the most substantial price discounts are being observed are in Westminster Kensington & Chelsea, Wandsworth, Camden, and Tower Hamlets. Another 18% of homes listed in the London area have seen price drops of at least 10% ahead of the Oct. 31 deadline. Jamie Salisbury, a property expert at Nested, said: “Amid this endless uncertainty and gloom there are great opportunities out there for buyers if they’re bold enough to seize them. This is particularly true for homeowners who are trading up, presenting an opportunity to buy a new home that might otherwise have been out of reach.”

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Everyone wants dollars and dollar-denominated “safe assets”.

The High Price of Dollar Safety (Coppola)

The world is saving like crazy. Corporations are building up cash mountains that they can’t or won’t invest in expanding their businesses. Individuals are building up pensions and precautionary savings. Governments, especially in developing countries, are building up FX reserves. The “savings glut,” as former Fed chairman Ben Bernanke dubbed it, shows no signs of dissipating. It is sloshing around the world looking for a productive home. But there isn’t one – or at least, not one that offers the safety that fearful investors desperately crave. That, fundamentally, is what is driving down the returns on assets.

It is also the primary cause of the wide US trade deficit. The President likes to think that the reason for the US’s persistent trade deficits is unfair trade practices and currency manipulation. And for some countries, these are undoubtedly contributing factors. But the biggest reason by far is the global dominance of the dollar, and above all, the pre-eminence of dollar-denominated financial assets as the world’s preferred savings vehicles. The world loves to save in dollar-denominated “safe assets” – not only the dollar itself, but also US Treasuries, mortgage-backed securities, dollar-denominated debt issued by other governments in good standing, and dollar-denominated blue-chip corporate debt.

When global demand for these assets rises and/or their supply falls, dollars become relatively scarcer internationally, both because foreigners increase their holdings of dollars and because they buy or borrow more dollars to buy other dollar-denominated safe assets. This drives up the dollar exchange rate against all other currencies. It also depresses yields, both on dollar-denominated safe assets and on all other financial assets. Thus the strong dollar and negative yields are both primarily caused by the world’s dollar saving habit, not by its trade practices. And the dollar safety quest intensifies as political tensions rise.

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Everyone wnats bonds? So give them what they want.

Mnuchin Says US Seriously Considering Ultra-Long Bonds (R.)

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said on Wednesday the possibility of issuing ultra-long U.S. bonds is “under very serious consideration” by the Trump administration, Bloomberg News reported. “If the conditions are right, then I would anticipate we’ll take advantage of long-term borrowing and execute on that,” Mnuchin told Bloomberg in an interview. Mnuchin said his renewed interest in 50- or 100-year bonds was unrelated to the drop in yields on shorter-term U.S. debt, Bloomberg reported.


Currently, the 30-year bond is the longest-dated U.S. Treasury bond. Earlier this month, the Treasury Department asked for feedback from market participants about the possibility of selling ultra-long bonds. The department posed a similar inquiry in 2017. U.S. Treasury debt yields fell on Wednesday, with 30-year yields setting all-time lows, as fears about a recession and U.S.-China trade tensions stoked unrelenting demand for low-risk government debt.

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FBI. Very reassuring.

FBI Studies Two Broken Cameras Outside Cell Where Epstein Died (R.)

Two cameras that malfunctioned outside the jail cell where financier Jeffrey Epstein died as he awaited trial on sex-trafficking charges have been sent to an FBI crime lab for examination, a law enforcement source told Reuters. Epstein’s lawyers Reid Weingarten and Martin Weinberg told U.S. District Judge Richard Berman in Manhattan on Tuesday they had doubts about the New York City chief medical examiner’s conclusion that their client killed himself. The two cameras were within view of the Manhattan jail cell where he was found dead on Aug. 10. A source earlier told Reuters two jail guards failed to follow a procedure overnight to make separate checks on all prisoners every 30 minutes.


He had been taken off suicide watch prior to his death. The cameras were sent to Quantico, Virginia, site of a major FBI crime lab where agents and forensic scientists analyze evidence. The Washington Post reported on Monday that at least one camera in the hallway outside Epstein’s cell had footage that was unusable. The newspaper said there was other usable footage captured in the area.

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That’ll stop them.

Hong Kong Police Ban Mass Protest Over Safety Fears (AFP)

Hong Kong police have banned a mass pro-democracy rally from going ahead on Saturday over public safety concerns, organisers said, after last weekend saw some of the worst violence in three months of political unrest in the financial hub. In a letter to the Civil Human Rights Front (CHRF) on Thursday, police said they feared some participants would commit “violent and destructive acts”. Protesters have not only carried out “arson and large scale road blockades but also used petrol bombs, steel balls, bricks, long spears, metal poles, as well as various self-made weapons to destroy public property on a large scale, damage social order and cause injury to others,” the letter said of previous protests.


The rare move comes after officers deployed water cannon and fired a warning gunshot to fend off radical protesters on Sunday night, after a sanctioned rally turned ugly. Saturday’s rally was set to mark five years since Beijing rejected political reforms in Hong Kong, a decision which sparked the 79-day Umbrella Movement. The CHRF, responsible for the largest rallies the city has seen in decades, said they would appeal the decision. “You can see the police’s course of action is intensifying, and you can see (Hong Kong leader) Carrie Lam has in fact no intention to let Hong Kong return to peace, but is trying to incite the anger of more citizens through tough measures,” the group’s leader Jimmy Sham told reporters.

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“.. the use of troops in Hong Kong will be the end of Hong Kong..”

Chinese Troop Movement Into Hong Kong Prompts Unease (G.)

Chinese military vehicles have been seen moving across the border into Hong Kong, in what the military said were regular troop movements, as fears rose that the city could see a Beijing-led crackdown after months of political unrest. Following witness reports of the movements in the early hours of Thursday, state-run news agency Xinhua released a report that the Hong Kong Garrison of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) was making a scheduled rotation and that it was an “annual normal routine”. The images published by Xinhua showed armoured carriers and trucks carrying troops at the border, and a naval vessel arriving in Hong Kong. In the previous two rotations – in 2017 and 2018 – state media reports noted that the number of troops and equipment had not changed.


This year the report does not include that detail. It is estimated there are between 8,000 and 10,000 troops in the garrison, on either side of the border. The movements come before a major anti-government demonstration planned for Saturday, as Hong Kong nears its third month of mass protests. On Thursday, the organiser of the demonstration, Civil Human Rights Front, received notice that police had banned the event. Hong Kong lawmaker Dennis Kwok of the Civic party called the troop movements political posturing. “I believe this is a deliberate posture on the part of the PLA to tell or warn the Hong Kong people that it may be deployed,” Kwok told public broadcaster RTHK. “As I said time and again, the use of troops in Hong Kong will be the end of Hong Kong, and I would warn against any such move on the part of the central people’s government.”

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Pretty crazy story.

Fear Stalks Cathay Staff After Hong Kong Protest Sackings (AFP)

A fortnight ago Cathay Pacific said it “wouldn’t dream” of muzzling the views of its 27,000 Hong Kong staff, but after the dismissal of several pro-democracy supporters among its workforce under Chinese pressure, employees say this is exactly what has happened. Hong Kong, a financial centre that was once a byword for stability and prosperity, has been plunged into an unprecedented crisis by anti-government protests, framed by fears over growing Chinese influence. The chaos put airline Cathay in a bind over whether to allow its staff to take part in — or voice support for — the massive demonstrations, or risk losing its China-facing business.

In mid-August, the carrier’s position seemed unequivocal and in line with the city’s culture of free speech. “We employ 27,000 different staff in Hong Kong… we have virtually every opinion on every issue amongst our staff,” Chairman John Slosar told reporters. “We certainly wouldn’t dream of telling them what they have to think about something.” But the company’s tune soon changed as a move by China’s aviation regulator to bar staff supporting protests from working on flights to the mainland or through Chinese airspace began to bite. Four Cathay staff were fired — including two pilots.

A fifth, Rebecca Sy, a union organiser and cabin crew for Cathay Dragon, a regional arm, says she was dropped from a Chinese flight rota and then dismissed a day later without explanation. “It’s now like feeding a wolf… how many people do they have to fire to feel content?” Sy told AFP on Wednesday at a protest against Cathay’s about-turn. Crew fear a witch-hunt is underway for anyone who has expressed support for the protests, which started in June but show no sign of abating. “We’re being monitored. It’s obvious,” a staff member from the Cathay Pacific Airways Flight Attendants Union told AFP, requesting anonymity. “I’m really afraid of the system of ratting people out.”

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Lessons from Hong Kong: lasers, umbrellas etc.

New Lip-Reading CCTV Will Have People Fall Silent In Public (ZH)

While UK citizens are no strangers to having their every move in public captured by the country’s extensive network of CCTV cameras, new lip-reading technology will leave people “cupping their hands over their mouths” just to old a conversation in the street, according to the government’s surveillance watchdog, Tony Porter. “Among the new technologies Mr Porter expressed concern about were lip-syncing programs that can decipher what people are saying at distance as well as gait-analysis software, which can identify an individual just by the manner of their walk.” -The Telegraph. “The capability to run lip-sync technology to determine what people are saying would have a very suppressive effect. It would change the nature of our society,” Porter told the Evening Standard.

“People wouldn’t feel they could have a conversation outside. We increasingly see the football manager cupping his hand over his mouth to give instructions for fear of being exposed.” “Just extrapolate that by millions and what it would mean if people knew there was a capability of walking down the town and your lips moving could be picked up and extrapolated into a conversation,” he added. Porter’s comments follow the launch of an official investigation into the use of facial recognition technology by the Metropolitan Police by Information Commissioner Elizabeth Denham – who says her office is “deeply concerned” about the software.

“Earlier this month, the civil liberties group Big Brother Watch also warned it had uncovered an “epidemic” of facial recognition technology being used around shopping centres, museums and conference venues in the UK. The pressure group said it had found that millions of people were now having their facial features unknowingly scanned and stored in data bases. Mr Porter conceded that such technologies could become an important tool for law enforcement. However, he added: “It’s important to protect a free and open society and at the moment we are at risk of ceding that to the impact of technology.”

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From the Washington Examiner, next to an Elizabeth Warren campaign ad. Oh irony.

All 4 Carter Page FISA Warrants Were Illegally Obtained – Joe diGenova (WE)

The Justice Department inspector general has determined all four Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act warrants against onetime Trump campaign aide Carter Page were illegally obtained, attorney Joe diGenova said this week. In an investigation that began last year, Inspector General Michael Horowitz examined the Justice Department’s and FBI’s compliance with legal requirements as well as policies and procedures in applications filed with the U.S. Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court related to Page as part of a larger counterintelligence inquiry into President Trump’s campaign. Back in May, diGenova, a former U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia, said the three FISA warrant extensions against Page were illegally obtained, adding “the only question now is whether or not the first FISA was illegally obtained.”


Now diGenova says Horowitz made the same determination about the warrant that started it all. “I can report categorically that the inspector general has found that all four FISA warrants were illegal. They were based on false information supplied to the FISA Court. And Michael Horowitz has concluded that all four FISA warrants were illegal,” he told WMAL on Monday. The announcement comes days after The Hill’s John Solomon reported Horowitz had completed his investigation and, after a declassification period, could be released sometime between mid-September to early October.

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“The movements were exquisitely tuned, along with the money flows that circulated freely, like blood carrying oxygen to each organ. All of that is coming to an end.”

The G-7 Blues (Kunstler)

Europe is near the end of its North Sea oil bonanza and there’s nothing in the on-deck circle for them. Germany tried to prove that they could run the country on “renewables” and that experiment has flopped. They have no idea what they’re going to do to keep the game going in their patch of nations. They must be freaking out in their charming capital cities. The next economic bust is going to amount to the crack-up of the oil age, and the “global economy” that emerged in its late stage. It was all about moving fantastic quantities of things around the planet. The movements were exquisitely tuned, along with the money flows that circulated freely, like blood carrying oxygen to each organ. All of that is coming to an end.

The nations of the world must be feeling desperate, despite the appearance of good manners at meetings like the G-7. What’s at stake for everybody in the dark background is the ability to maintain high standards of living only recently attained. And the fear behind that is not knowing just how far backward these high standards of living may have to slide. A lot of people still alive in China must remember a daily existence on par with the 12th century. In the USA, where democracy is mostly represented by low-order thinking skills, the memory of life before electricity and running water is long gone. We’ve been living in Futurama since the end of the last world war. That war, by the way, is not entirely forgotten in Europe, despite all the charm currently on display and the tourists swarming with their selfie sticks.

The place was a charnel house for centuries and the Euro folk will do about anything to suppress conflict. Lately, it looks like they’re willing to give up on Western Civilization itself to keep the peace. Lord knows what Mr. Trump’s strategy is with these so-called “trade talks.” He has explicitly enough pushed for the re-industrialization of America, and that implies — among other things — decoupling from the China’s torrential merchandise supply lines, cutting off its revenues. Closing off China’s access to US markets itself might be enough to finally blow up China’s deeply fraudulent banking system. Maybe the aim is to just disable China, derail it from its seeming aim of becoming the next world hegemon. Does Mr. Trump think he can do that without blowing up the rest of the world’s financial arrangements?

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May 112019
 


Pierre-Auguste Renoir Riding in the Bois de Boulogne (Madame Henriette Darras or The Ride) 1873

 

Labour Without Energy Is A Corpse; Capital Without Energy Is A Sculpture (Keen)
Traditional Economics Has Absolutely Screwed Us (Tyee)
House Dems To Bundle Numerous Contempt Citations For Trump Advisers (R.)
House Democrat Subpoenas Six Years Of Trump Tax Returns (AP)
FISA Applications Were Illegally Obtained – DiGenova (PJ)
William Barr vs. Eric Holder: A Tale of Two Attorneys General (McConnell)
Fugees Founder, Banker Charged In 1MDB, Obama Campaign Scandal (RT)
Crisis? What Crisis? (Jim Kunstler)
Manning Could Delay US Superseding Indictment Against Assange (Sp.)
Dutch Court Blocks Extradition Of Man To ‘Inhumane’ UK Prisons (G.)
Varoufakis On Eurozone: ‘We Created A Monster’ (Exp.)
70 Migrants Dead After Boat Capsizes Trying To Reach Europe From Libya (G.)
Nearly All Countries Agree To Stem Flow Of Plastic Waste Into Poor Nations (G.)

 

 

First saw this a few days ago, and it slipped from my radar. Now, Steve Keen announced that he got a grant for his work with Tim Garrett and Matheus Grasselli on “developing models of production in which energy plays [a role] in production (and, necessarily, in climate degradation)”. Yes, you read that right: in 2019, economists need to begin the study the role of energy in an economic system, because it’s always been ignored. What a crazy field that is.

Labour Without Energy Is A Corpse; Capital Without Energy Is A Sculpture (Keen)

With the simple insight that “labour without energy is a corpse, and capital without energy is a sculpture”, I realised why economists have failed to properly incorporate the role of energy in production for so long. All previous attempts had treated energy as a third “factor of production”, on an equal footing with Labour and Capital. But that treatment is simply unrealistic. Adding energy on its own to a production process is like letting off a bomb in a factory: it will produce mayhem, not output. Equally, both Labour and Capital are “sterile”, to use the old Physiocratic term: without energy, they can’t produce anything.


Figure 1: The incorrect way to show energy as a factor of production

The correct way to incorporate energy into economic models of production, therefore, is to see energy as an input to both Labour and Capital (in vastly different forms, of course), which enable them to perform useful work. By the Second Law of Thermodynamics, this useful work necessarily results in disorder (waste energy, mainly in the form of waste matter, including CO2). Also by the Second Law, entropy increases globally, even though it can be reduced locally by the application of energy; so the increase in disorder in the waste from production necessarily exceeds the reduction in disorder manifest in output itself (raw materials turned into finished products).


Figure 2: The correct way: Energy as an input to labour and capital, output as necessarily generating waste

This useful work is what we call GDP, though we currently erroneously measure this as the inflation-adjusted sum of all monetary output—which means we add the cost of traffic accidents to GDP. Instead, the true measure of GDP is the sum of all the useful things we produce and consume: in transportation, that is moving a mass from one location to another in a given time, and traffic accidents (and congestion) subtract from it.

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Palm oil or orangutans? For economists, an easy choice.

Traditional Economics Has Absolutely Screwed Us (Tyee)

Capitalism is killing the planet. That is the gist of an exhaustive United Nations report on the bleak state of the world’s biodiversity. One million species face extinction in what has been aptly called a global murder-suicide, driven by a race to commodify ecosystems and externalize the costs of their destruction. If you were looking for a perky read to start your week, this report was not it. However, the collective efforts of 350 leading experts from 51 countries have resulted in the definitive wake-up call for those still doubting the dire consequences of business-as-usual on our one and only planet. A Noah’s ark of iconic species seems bound for oblivion due to our growing collective consumption and population.

Will your children be able to enjoy a world with wild elephants, orcas, or blue whales? Sixty per cent of primate species are threatened with extinction. The taste of a tuna sandwich may soon be consigned to lore. All of this has been happening in plain view but only recently has this become economically relevant by cutting into the bottom line. Up to $577 billion in global crop production is at risk due to collapsing populations of pollinating insects. One-third of commercial fish stocks are in steep decline with another 60 per cent being fully exploited, leaving only seven per cent of the world’s fisheries under safe management. This is exacerbated by regulatory failure where landings may be 50 per cent higher than reported, and illegal fishing accounts for up to one-third of the global catch.

Expanding agriculture is one of the main drivers of exploding extinction rates. Between 1980 and 2000, about 100 million hectares of tropical forests — roughly the area of France and Germany combined — were converted for grazing, monoculture plantations like palm oil, or short-term subsistence farming. Desperate humans and multinational companies both encroach on remaining rainforests, seeing only as far as the next growing season or financial quarter. Why does economics prioritize palm oil over orangutans? Because palm plantations are profitable, producing almost five times the oil yield per hectare of sunflowers, coconut or soybeans. Consumers too unintentionally contribute to this destruction, driving a market for a ubiquitous ingredient found in everything from lipstick to ice cream.

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McGahn, Barr, Mueller, Mnuchin, are these all the same?

House Dems To Bundle Numerous Contempt Citations For Trump Advisers (R.)

U.S. House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler said lawmakers may bundle numerous contempt citations from different committees into a single resolution that the full House of Representatives could then vote on. “There obviously are going to have to be, perhaps from our committee and certainly from other committees, other contempt citations to enforce subpoenas,” Nadler told reporters. Asked about bundling citations together, the New York Democrat replied: “It’s a great idea. In fact, I suggested it … It just makes sense, to spend as little floor time as possible, to group them together.”


A consolidated contempt vote is among options Democrats are considering in response to Trump’s stonewalling of congressional investigations into his presidency and business investments. Another option is reviving Congress’s “inherent” contempt authority. Some Democrats say that would allow lawmakers to fine uncooperative officials up to $25,000 per day. Some Democrats are also calling for impeachment proceedings against recalcitrant Trump Cabinet members. Nadler said Congress faces “the unprecedented situation in which the administration is essentially stonewalling all subpoenas – we’ve never had this before in American history, so far as I know.”

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They lost two years on the Russia collusion story. Doesn’t look so smart now, does it?

House Democrat Subpoenas Six Years Of Trump Tax Returns (AP)

A top House Democrat on Friday issued subpoenas for six years of Donald Trump’s tax returns, giving the treasury secretary, Steven Mnuchin, and the IRS commissioner, Charles Rettig, a deadline of next Friday to deliver them. Richard Neal, the chairman of the House ways and means committee, issued the subpoenas days after Mnuchin refused to comply with demands to turn over Trump’s returns. Mnuchin told the panel he wouldn’t provide Trump’s tax records because the panel’s request “lacks a legitimate legislative purpose”, as supreme court precedent requires.

Neal reminded the two Trump appointees in a Friday letter that federal law states that the IRS “shall furnish” the tax returns of any individual upon the request of the chairmen of Congress’s tax-writing committees, and that ways and means “has never been denied” a request. The White House and the Democratic-controlled House are waging a multi-front battle over investigations into Trump, with the administration refusing to comply with subpoenas for the unredacted Mueller report and documents related to testimony by the former White House counsel Donald McGahn. If Mnuchin and Rettig refuse to comply with the subpoenas, Neal is likely to file a lawsuit in federal court.

He indicated earlier this week that he was leaning toward filing a court case immediately but changed course after meeting with lawyers for the House. Neal originally demanded access to Trump’s tax returns in early April. He maintains that the committee is looking into the effectiveness of mandatory IRS audits of tax returns of all sitting presidents, a way to justify his claim that the panel has a potential legislative purpose. Democrats are confident in their legal justification and say Trump is stalling in an attempt to punt the issue past the 2020 election. In rejecting Neal’s request earlier this week, Mnuchin said he relied on the advice of the justice department. He concluded that the treasury department was “not authorized to disclose the requested returns and return information”. Mnuchin has also said that Neal’s request would potentially weaponize private tax returns for political purposes.

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I don’t think John Solomon is done yet.

As for the Papadopoulos $10,000 story, how is that an “explosive revelation”? Have known that for a long time.

FISA Applications Were Illegally Obtained – DiGenova (PJ)

Washington attorney Joe diGenova claimed in an interview last night that the Department of Justice inspector general has determined that “the final three FISA extensions were illegally obtained,” and the first one is still being investigated. For the past year, DOJ IG Michael Horowitz has been investigating the FBI’s 2016 surveillance activities and his report is expected later this month or in early June. Washington power couple Joe diGenova and Victoria Toensing appeared on Lou Dobbs’ Fox Business Network show Thursday night to talk about the latest turns in the “SpyGate” saga. “The only question now is whether or not the first FISA was illegally obtained,” diGenova said.

He told Dobbs that the latest revelations in investigative reporter John Solomon’s piece at The Hill, have prompted further investigation from Horowitz’s team. On Thursday, Solomon reported that newly unearthed memos show that a high-ranking government official from the Obama State Department met with former British spy Christopher Steele in October of 2016, and figured out pretty quickly that his dossier was a political hit job intended to slime Donald Trump on behalf of Hillary Clinton’s campaign. [..] DiGenova said the inspector general was unaware of the memos, which were obtained last week through open-records litigation by the conservative group Citizens United. “The Bureau hid those memos from Horowitz. As a result of that, they are doing some additional work on the first FISA,” diGenova explained, adding: “It may be that all four FISAs will have been obtained illegally.”

[..] DiGenova and Toensing shared another explosive revelation on Sebastian Gorka’s Salem Radio talk show “America First” on Thursday. According to Toensing, the FBI tried to frame former Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos by having an informant give him $10,000 in cash during a trip to Israel in the summer of 2017. An individual allegedly talked the then-29-year-old into traveling to Israel to make a deal, and invited him to his hotel room. “And there on the bed is $10,000 in cash in a suitcase,” she continued. Papadopoulos took the money and gave it to his lawyer, who has it still. Toensing said when Papadopoulos returned to the United States, he was greeted by FBI agents at Dulles Airport and they started searching through everything that he had “the second he landed.”

She added, “in fact, they already had his baggage from the plane. He couldn’t believe they had his baggage.” “It was a set up!” exclaimed Gorka. “It was a complete set up,” agreed Toensing. DiGenova explained that the Feds already knew that he hadn’t declared that he had $10,000 and were expecting to find the undeclared cash so they could arrest him and “put the thumbscrews on and make him squeal,” as Gorka put it. Worst of all, according to Toensing, “one of the FBI agents said to him, ‘this is what happens when you work for Donald Trump.’”

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Good read. To a large extent, the Democrats made their own bed. Very far from a black and white story.

William Barr vs. Eric Holder: A Tale of Two Attorneys General (McConnell)

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi has declared it a “constitutional crisis” that Attorney General William Barr refuses to divulge the small parts of the Mueller report that contain grand-jury material. By a straight party-line vote, the House Judiciary Committee voted to hold Barr in contempt of Congress. What did Pelosi think when Barr’s predecessor, Eric Holder, refused to divulge documents to a congressional committee and was held in contempt? “Ridiculous!” she said. What did Holder and Obama say? That the House subpoena was a violation of “separation of powers.” To partisans, the difference between the cases is obvious. Barr is defending Trump; Holder was Obama’s self-proclaimed “wing man.”

That is enough for many journalists and most politicians. The rest of us might want to know: What is the legal or constitutional difference between Holder’s refusal to provide documents and Barr’s? Here is the background of the Holder contempt. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (BATFE), a unit of Holder’s Department of Justice (DOJ), conducted an operation called “Fast & Furious,” intended to track illegal gun sales. In fact it put hundreds of weapons in the hands of Mexican criminal gangs, leading to the death of an American officer. On February 2, 2011, after news of the operation emerged, Holder’s assistant attorney general sent a letter to Congress declaring that the Obama administration had no knowledge of the operation. This letter was false, as Holder later admitted.

A congressional committee wanted to know why it had been misled. BATFE employees leaked to Congress that the department was still suppressing the truth about the operation and retaliating against whistleblowers. The committee wanted to dig into that. It demanded DOJ documents “relating to actions the Department took to silence or retaliate against Fast and Furious whistleblowers,” so that it could determine “what the Department knew about Fast and Furious, including when and how it discovered its February 4 letter was false, and the Department’s efforts to conceal that information from Congress and the public.”

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“..funnelled [over $21 million] personally and through straw donors to President Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign, then lied about it to the Federal Elections Commission in 2015.”

Fugees Founder, Banker Charged In 1MDB, Obama Campaign Scandal (RT)

A founding member of the Fugees is accused of conspiracy to funnel illegal campaign contributions to Barack Obama’s 2012 presidential campaign and lying about it, in a spinoff of the 1MDB corruption scandal. The indictment against Prakazrel “Pras” Michel, 46, was unsealed on Friday, the government says he received over $21 million from Malaysian businessman Low Taek Jho (also known as “Jho Low”) and funnelled it personally and through straw donors to President Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign, then lied about it to the Federal Elections Commission in 2015. Michel was charged with conspiracy to defraud US government, falsifying records, and making a false statement. He appeared before a federal judge in Washington, DC on Friday and pleaded not guilty.


Mr. Michel is extremely disappointed that so many years after the fact the government would bring charges related to 2012 campaign contributions,” said his attorney Barry Pollack. “Mr. Michel is innocent of these charges and looks forward to having the case heard by a jury.” Michel is best known as one of the founding members of the Fugees, an award-winning group that set music charts on fire with ‘Killing me softly’ in 1996 and launched the solo careers of Wyclef Jean and Lauryn Hill. Low, 37, was also charged in the case, adding to the existing indictments against the Malaysian businessman already wanted for conspiring to launder billions of dollars and violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.

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“..he rode on the back of that fraud for two years, as if touring a political landfill on a donkey, leaving the public to stew in anxious hallucinations.”

Crisis? What Crisis? (Jim Kunstler)

Information emerged over the weeks since the Mueller Report’s release that Mr. Mueller and his team knew unequivocally that the Special Counsel’s mission and the FBI operations that preceded it were based on concocted political bullshit supplied by Mrs. Clinton and her network of flunkies and fixers, ranging throughout the permanent DC bureacuracy (a.k.a. the Swamp), to outposts in foreign intel services and the political kitty-litter box known as Ukraine. Mr. Mueller must have suspected this from the outset, but knew for sure by the summer of 2017, and omitted to advise the American public that he had uncovered a fraud. Rather, he rode on the back of that fraud for two years, as if touring a political landfill on a donkey, leaving the public to stew in anxious hallucinations.


What else did Mr. Mueller do, or omit to do? He never engaged US government forensic computer analysts to examine the DNC servers at the heart of RussiaGate story. Rather, he allowed the conclusions to stand of a company called CrowdStrike, hired by the DNC itself to supposedly investigate the theft of emails, especially those of Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta. Mr. Mueller never bothered to interview the one person who might have known exactly who supplied the purloined emails to Wikileaks, namely Julian Assange. Mr. Mueller also did not bother to interview several dozen retired Intel Community computer experts, led by William Binney, former Technical Director of the NSA, who determined that the hack was accomplished by direct download by an insider onto a flash drive.

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This is about what the US wants to add to the Assange charge once he’s been extradited.

Manning Could Delay US Superseding Indictment Against Assange (Sp.)

According to Manning’s legal team, her release was triggered by the expiration of the term of the grand jury that had demanded her testimony. She will be back in court on May 16, trying to convince a new grand jury of what she failed to prove to the last one: that she cannot be forced to cooperate, as she fundamentally disagrees with the concept of a grand jury, which she says use activists’ testimonies against them. “This will go on until they get what they want or she continues to stay in jail,” Joe Lauria, editor-in-chief of Consortium News, told Radio Sputnik’s Loud and Clear Friday. “She’s in a position where she could delay or slow down what the Justice Department wants to do in terms of a superseding indictment against Assange.

Nobody believes that they are going to want to just put him in jail for five years… this initial indictment is a placeholder, and they have a deadline of June 12 to give to British court the charges; the decision has to be made in the UK,” Lauria said. However, there is a way around that, Lauria told hosts Brian Becker and John Kiriakou, called the Doctrine of Specialty, which, according to reference website USLegal.com, is “a principle of international law that is included in most extradition treaties, whereby a person who is extradited to a country to stand trial for certain criminal offenses may be tried only for those offenses and not for any other pre-extradition offenses.” “Once the asylum state extradites an individual to the requesting state under the terms of an extradition treaty, that person can be prosecuted only for crimes specified in the extradition request,” the website notes.

“This doctrine allows a nation to require the requesting nation to limit prosecution to declared offenses.” “In other words, Assange could come to the US based on this very silly charge that he tried to help Chelsea Manning hack into a computer — when she had top secret clearance and total access anyway — clearly he was trying to just help her hide her identity. But, he could come to the US and they could start adding charges there. I suspect that might happen if she doesn’t testify — which she will not do, obviously; she’s made that abundantly clear.” “They clearly need something from her, or they wouldn’t be throwing her back in jail, effectively, because she refuses to testify,” Lauria said. “But she’s not going to say a damn thing; she’s not going to cooperate, at incredible personal expense to herself, and that just goes to show what a person of principle she is.”

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Curious but still..

Dutch Court Blocks Extradition Of Man To ‘Inhumane’ UK Prisons (G.)

Judges in the Netherlands have refused to send a suspected drug smuggler back to the UK because of concerns that conditions in British jails are inhumane. An initial application to extradite the unnamed man, who had been on the run for two years, was refused this week due to the reported state of HMP Liverpool where he would probably be sent.The court of Amsterdam heard how inspectors had found “some of the most disturbing prison conditions we have ever seen” and “conditions which have no place in an advanced nation in the 21st century”, in reference to report on the state of prisons in the UK published last July.


A surprise inspection of HMP Liverpool in September 2017 found it was infested with rats and that inmates lived in squalid conditions, afraid of being attacked because of increasing violence. Similar conditions were found in HMP Birmingham and HMP Bedford. The Dutch judges said on Wednesday they were concerned the man, who was wanted in relation to cocaine and heroin smuggling on Merseyside, was at “real risk of inhuman or degrading treatment” if returned. The man had been made the subject of a European arrest warrant at Liverpool magistrates court in July 2017. His lawyer argued that the extradition should be refused based on the prison inspectors’ reports.

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“.. If you start with a monetary union, you make sure there will not be a democratic political union.”

Varoufakis On Eurozone: ‘We Created A Monster’ (Exp.)

Former Greek financial minister Yanis Varoufakis branded the eurozone “a monster” for allegedly taking away financial oversight from European Union member states. Mr Varoufakis, an outspoken opponent of the European monetary union, claimed the creation of the common currency led to an “undemocratic political union”. Recounting his first meeting with other eurozone Finance Ministers in 2015, Mr Varoufakis said: “When I was in the Eurogroup, Wolfgang Schauble was very clear. The first time he spoke, in my presence, he said –spectacularly and very honestly – ’democracy cannot be allowed to change economic policies.’


Mr Varoufakis continued: “We’ve created a monster. We’ve created a monetary union that has a central bank without a state behind it because the European Central Bank (ECB) doesn’t have a corresponding state. Before the euro, you had the Treasury, the ministry of finance and you had the central banks – correspondence. “The ECB is a gigantic central bank with no state behind it and you’ve got 19 states without a central bank. This is not the way to create a monetary union which is consistent with the political union.” He added: “The fallacy in 1992 with Helmut Kohl and Francois Mitterrand, is that they believed you start with a monetary union and then you move towards a democratic political union. “No. If you start with a monetary union, you make sure there will not be a democratic political union.”

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Not sure the biggest EU monster is a finance one.

70 Migrants Dead After Boat Capsizes Trying To Reach Europe From Libya (G.)

As many as 70 people trying to reach Europe from Libya have drowned after their vessel capsized in the deadliest such incident in the Mediterranean since January. According to survivors, at least 16 of whom were rescued, the boat left Zuwara in Libya, where renewed warfare between rival factions has gripped the capital, Tripoli, in the past five weeks. The vessel capsized 40 miles off the coast of Sfax, south of Tunis, as it headed towards Italy. The survivors reported that a Tunisian fishing boat came to their rescue and transferred them to a Tunisian coastguard vessel.


The incident came as overall number of people reaching Europe has decreased, whilethe journey has become increasingly dangerous. So far this year, 17,000 migrants and refugees have entered Europe via the sea, about 30% fewer than in the same period last year, according to the International Organization for Migration. The IOM said 443 people have reportedly died on Mediterranean crossings since 1 January, compared with 620 in the same period in 2018. The Institute for International Political Studies (ISPI) thinktank said that one person died for every eight people who left Libya from January to April, based on analysis of figures from the Italian interior ministry.

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There’ll always be a dictator somewhere who invites a few million dollars. There’s only one solution: stop producing the stuff. 2 trillion drinks containers were sold in 2018. Cut it out.

Nearly All Countries Agree To Stem Flow Of Plastic Waste Into Poor Nations (G.)

Almost all the world’s countries have agreed on a deal aimed at restricting shipments of hard-to-recycle plastic waste to poorer countries, the United Nations announced on Friday. Exporting countries – including the US – now will have to obtain consent from countries receiving contaminated, mixed or unrecyclable plastic waste. Currently, the US and other countries can send lower-quality plastic waste to private entities in developing countries without getting approval from their governments. Since China stopped accepting recycling from the US, activists say they have observed plastic waste piling up in developing countries. The Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (Gaia), a backer of the deal, says it found villages in Indonesia, Thailand and Malaysia that had “turned into dumpsites over the course of a year”.


“We were finding that there was waste from the US that was just piled up in villages throughout these countries that had once been primarily agricultural communities,” said Claire Arkin, a spokeswoman for Gaia. The legally binding framework emerged at the end of a two-week meeting of UN-backed conventions on plastic waste and toxic, hazardous chemicals that threaten the planet’s seas and creatures. The pact comes in an amendment to the Basel convention. The US is not a party to that convention so it did not have a vote, but attendees at the meeting said the country argued against the change, saying officials didn’t understand the repercussions it would have on the plastic waste trade.

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May 092019
 


James Ensor The frightful musicians 1891

 

How Julian Assange Changed Journalism (Stefania Maurizi)
Pamela Anderson’s Assange Blanket Conceals The Truth Of His Detention (G.)
China Backtracked On Nearly All Aspects Of US Trade Deal (R.)
Trump Blames Bolton For Embroiling Him In Potential Venezuelan Quagmire (Week)
Trump Predicts Dem Investigation Will Drive Him To 2020 Win (Hill)
Steele’s Stunning Pre-FISA Confession (Solomon)
Democrats Vote To Hold Attorney General Barr In Contempt Of Congress (G.)
Democrats Showing Contempt By Holding William Barr In Contempt (Turley)
Democrats Know Mueller Can’t Discuss His Report (Schoen)
James Comey Is In Trouble And He Knows It (Hill)
Time to Start Worrying About Global Corporate Debt – Bank of England (DQ)
Greek Bonds Yield Less Than Treasurys – As Irrational As In 2007 (Ashoka Mody)
The Fight to Save Wild Salmon- Have We Reached The End Of Wild? (G.)
Only A Third Of World’s Great Rivers Remain Free Flowing (G.)
Proposal To Spend 25% Of EU Budget On Climate Change (BBC)

 

 

The entire media left Assange to rot in hell. This is from a longer interview with Maurizi. It captures the essence.

How Julian Assange Changed Journalism (Stefania Maurizi)

For me it has been really shocking to witness how Julian Assange has declined in the last nine years. I have been able to see changes in Julian’s health and psychology. It was so sad, and no one could do anything. I could report on it and expose it but the other media and public opinion did absolutely nothing to make the government understand how terrible his treatment was. And all this is happening not in Russia, not in North Korea, this is happening in London, in the heart of Europe. I now realize how little we can do in our democracy.


If you look at what has happened to high-profile whistleblowers like Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden, and an important publisher like Assange, who had the courage to publish these important revelations, what did your democracy do to save them, to treat them in a human way? Chelsea Manning was put in prison for seven years, where she tried to commit suicide twice. Now she is back in prison. Edward Snowden was forced to leave the U.S. Julian Assange has spent nine years in detainment and no one did anything. We were reporting, we were denouncing, we were exposing how seriously his health was declining. Nothing happened.

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A great example of how it’s done. I stumbled upon this in the Guardian, “Ask Hadley” by one Hadley Freemen. Yes the kind of thing men won’t read, it’s directed at women. Who in this way get told what to think of Assange. The rape smear against him from MI6 et al has been more successful than anything else in turning especially women against him. This is how. It’s vile and it’s very dirty. And this Hadley person has no qualms about throwing another woman, Pamela Anderson, under the bus to do it. Because, you know, of her reputation.

Pamela Anderson’s Assange Blanket Conceals The Truth Of His Detention (G.)

Anderson made a long comment to the handily assembled press ranks outside the jail after her visit. She talked about how horrifically unjust it was that Assange was “really cut off from everybody”, to which you can only answer: “Well then, he should be delighted, given he chose to do exactly that for the past seven years when he holed himself up in the Ecuadorean embassy.” Anderson continued: “He does not deserve to be in a supermax prison. He has never committed a violent act. He is an innocent person.”


‘Nothing makes a woman look more credible than writing “Cromwell” on a blanket and then standing outside a prison.’ Photograph: Gareth Fuller/PA

And again, Ms Anderson, one must beg to remind you that, while that may all be true, no one knows that for certain because – and apologies for bringing up this inconvenient truth yet again – he avoided extradition to Sweden to answer to crimes he is accused of by hiding out in an embassy in Knightsbridge for seven flipping years. You remember that, right? You visited him there. That place where your warrior for truth would – according to Ecuador’s UK ambassador, Jaime Marchán – leave half-eaten meals in the sink. As Andrew O’Hagan explained way back in 2014 when describing what it was like spending time with Assange: “If you asked him to do the dishes, he would say he was trying to free economic slaves in China and had no time to wash up.”


Anderson added: “He is a good man, he is an incredible person. I love him.” She clearly rather fancies herself and Assange as the 21st century’s Marilyn Monroe and Arthur Miller (as opposed to what they actually are, which is a real-life Harley Quinn and Joker from Batman: The Animated Series). Still, good for you, Pamela! Love is a wondrous thing. This column sincerely hopes you have many happy years of washing his dishes ahead of you. Anyway, just in case Anderson’s word salad was not sufficiently persuasive, she also wore a blanket emblazoned with writing that included the words “free speech”, “gagged” and “Cromwell”. Because, honestly, nothing makes a woman look more credible than writing “Cromwell” on a blanket and then standing outside a prison. Anderson is just the latest in a long and not especially noble line of people who have decided that the best way to express themselves is by writing words on their clothing.

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“The talks were so bad that the real surprise is that it took Trump until Sunday to blow up,” the source said.”

China Backtracked On Nearly All Aspects Of US Trade Deal (R.)

The diplomatic cable from Beijing arrived in Washington late on Friday night, with systematic edits to a nearly 150-page draft trade agreement that would blow up months of negotiations between the world’s two largest economies, according to three U.S. government sources and three private sector sources briefed on the talks. The document was riddled with reversals by China that undermined core U.S. demands, the sources told Reuters. In each of the seven chapters of the draft trade deal, China had deleted its commitments to change laws to resolve core complaints that caused the United States to launch a trade war: theft of U.S. intellectual property and trade secrets; forced technology transfers; competition policy; access to financial services; and currency manipulation.

U.S. President Donald Trump responded in a tweet on Sunday vowing to raise tariffs on $200 billion worth of Chinese goods from 10 to 25 percent on Friday – timed to land in the middle of a scheduled visit by China’s Vice Premier Liu He to Washington to continue trade talks. The stripping of binding legal language from the draft struck directly at the highest priority of U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer – who views changes to Chinese laws as essential to verifying compliance after years of what U.S. officials have called empty reform promises. Lighthizer has pushed hard for an enforcement regime more like those used for punitive economic sanctions – such as those imposed on North Korea or Iran – than a typical trade deal.


“This undermines the core architecture of the deal,” said a Washington-based source with knowledge of the talks. [..] Liu last week told Lighthizer and Mnuchin that they needed to trust China to fulfil its pledges through administrative and regulatory changes, two of the sources said. Both Mnuchin and Lighthizer considered that unacceptable, given China’s history of failing to fulfil reform pledges. One private-sector source briefed on the talks said the last round of negotiations had gone very poorly because “China got greedy”. “China reneged on a dozen things, if not more … The talks were so bad that the real surprise is that it took Trump until Sunday to blow up,” the source said.

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If we could get rid of Bolton and Pompeo this way, great! For now though, Trump doesn’t want to start wars, but he won’t fire the warmongers either.

Trump Blames Bolton For Embroiling Him In Potential Venezuelan Quagmire (Week)

President Trump is having second thoughts about “his administration’s aggressive strategy in Venezuela,” complaining to aides and advisers that “he was misled about how easy it would be to replace the socialist strongman,” President Nicolas Maduro, with opposition leader Juan Guadió, The Washington Post reports. “The president’s dissatisfaction has crystallized around National Security Adviser John Bolton and what Trump has groused is an interventionist stance at odds with his view that the United States should stay out of foreign quagmires.”


Officially, U.S. policy in Venezuela is the same, and last week’s failed effort to oust Maduro has “effectively shelved serious discussion of a heavy U.S. military response,” and “Trump is now not inclined to order any sort of military intervention in Venezuela,” the Post reports, citing current and former officials and outside advisers. Instead, the U.S. is settling in to wait out Maduro on the expectation he will fall on his own, with the help of U.S. sanctions. Russian President Vladimir Putin “is not looking at all to get involved in Venezuela other than he’d like to see something positive happen for Venezuela,” Trump said last week, after a 90-minute phone call with Putin. “And I feel the same way. We want to get some humanitarian aid.” U.S. officials say Russia is deeply involved in backing Maduro.

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A constitutional crisis?

Trump Predicts Dem Investigation Will Drive Him To 2020 Win (Hill)

President Trump, speaking at a rally hours after the White House invoked executive privilege to block the release of special counsel Robert Mueller’s full report, predicted congressional Democrats’ investigations would propel him to a reelection victory in 2020. Trump did not directly address his administration’s decision to defy a subpoena from House Democrats, a move that raised the specter of a constitutional crisis, but he said the party’s desire to probe his administration, campaign and businesses would backfire politically. “They want to do investigations instead of investments,” the president told a crowd of supporters at an outdoor amphitheater just steps from the Gulf of Mexico. “I think it drives us on to victory in 2020.”


Trump said Democrats’ focus on investigations is a “disgrace” and that they should instead work with him on infrastructure, lowering drug prices and improving veterans’ health care. [..] Trump mentioned Barr only in passing during the Wednesday rally but did not address the proceedings. “Now the Democrats — we have a great attorney general — now the Democrats are saying, ‘We want more.’ You know, it was going to be like, ‘We want the Mueller report.’ Now they say, ‘Mueller report? No, we want to start all over again.’”

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This will go far. This is very damning.

Steele’s Stunning Pre-FISA Confession (Solomon)

If ever there were an admission that taints the FBI’s secret warrant to surveil Donald Trump’s campaign, it sat buried for more than 2 1/2 years in the files of a high-ranking State Department official. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Kathleen Kavalec’s written account of her Oct. 11, 2016, meeting with FBI informant Christopher Steele shows the Hillary Clinton campaign-funded British intelligence operative admitted that his research was political and facing an Election Day deadline. And that confession occurred 10 days before the FBI used Steele’s now-discredited dossier to justify securing a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) warrant to surveil former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page and the campaign’s ties to Russia.

Steele’s client “is keen to see this information come to light prior to November 8,” the date of the 2016 election, Kavalec wrote in a typed summary of her meeting with Steele and Tatyana Duran, a colleague from Steele’s Orbis Security firm. The memos were unearthed a few days ago through open-records litigation by the conservative group Citizens United. Kavalec’s notes do not appear to have been provided to the House Intelligence Committee during its Russia probe, according to former Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.). “They tried to hide a lot of documents from us during our investigation, and it usually turns out there’s a reason for it,” Nunes told me. Senate and House Judiciary investigators told me they did not know about them, even though they investigated Steele’s behavior in 2017-18.


One member of Congress transmitted the memos this week to the Department of Justice’s inspector general, fearing its investigation of FISA abuses may not have had access to them. Nonetheless, the FBI is doing its best to keep much of Kavalec’s information secret by retroactively claiming it is classified, even though it was originally marked unclassified in 2016. The apparent effort to hide Kavalec’s notes from her contact with Steele has persisted for some time. State officials acknowledged a year ago they received a copy of the Steele dossier in July 2016, and got a more detailed briefing in October 2016 and referred the information to the FBI.

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From what I can see, this is quite weak. Jonathan Turley explains why in the next article: “..the contempt action against Barr is long on action and short on contempt ..”

Democrats Vote To Hold Attorney General Barr In Contempt Of Congress (G.)

House Democrats voted on Wednesday to hold the US attorney general, William Barr, in contempt of Congress, citing his failure to hand over the full, unredacted version of the special counsel Robert Mueller’s report on Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. The decision came on a day of escalating tensions between Congress and the White House. Earlier on Wednesday, the White House invoked executive privilege to block the House judiciary committee’s request for the full Mueller report and underlying evidence. Later in the day, the House intelligence committee chair, Adam Schiff, subpoenaed Barr for “documents and materials related Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, including all counterintelligence and foreign intelligence materials produced during the Special Counsel’s investigation, the full unredacted report, and the underlying evidence”.


According to a statement from Schiff’s office, the justice department must produce the documents by 15 May. The Senate intelligence committee, meanwhile, has subpoenaed Donald Trump Jr, two people familiar with the matter told the Associated Press. The panel is calling in the president’s son to answer questions about his 2017 testimony to the panel as part of its investigation into Russian election interference. It is the first known subpoena of a member of Donald Trump‘s immediate family, and a new sign that the Senate panel is continuing with its own Russia investigation even after the release of Mueller’s report on the same subject.

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Jonathan Turley is the Shapiro Professor of Public Interest Law at George Washington University and represented the House of Representatives in its successful challenge to executive actions under the Affordable Care Act..

Democrats Showing Contempt By Holding William Barr In Contempt (Turley)

The House Judiciary Committee is voting to hold Attorney General William Barr in contempt of Congress and to secure a vote of the entire House of Representatives in order to send the matter to federal court. The problem is that the contempt action against Barr is long on action and short on contempt. Indeed, with a superficial charge, the House could seriously undermine its credibility in the ongoing conflicts with the White House. Congress is right on a number of complaints against the White House, including possible cases of contempt, but this is not one of them. As someone who has represented the House of Representatives, my concern is that this one violates a legal version of the Hippocratic oath to “first do no harm.”


This could do great harm, not to Barr, but to the House. It is the weakest possible case to bring against the administration, and likely to be an example of a bad case making bad law for the House. House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler laid out the case for contempt. He raised three often repeated complaints against Barr in that he failed to release an unredacted report by special counsel Robert Mueller, allegedly lied twice to Congress, and refused to appear before the committee. Yet, notably, the only claim the committee seeks to put before a federal court is the redaction of the report. That seems rather curious since, if Barr lied or refused a subpoena as House leaders claim, it normally would be an easy case of contempt. The reason for this move is that House Democrats know both claims would not withstand even a cursory judicial review.

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David Schoen is a civil rights and criminal defense lawyer.

Democrats Know Mueller Can’t Discuss His Report (Schoen)

When Mueller accepted his appointment as special counsel, he did so fully aware of the federal regulations governing his office. The regulations make it absolutely clear that the special counsel is prohibited from discussing his report publicly. Leading members of Congress now demanding that Mueller testify know he is barred from doing so. The current special counsel regulations were passed while they were members of Congress. In 1978, Congress passed the Ethics in Government Act. It created a process for appointing special prosecutors. This is a different position from special counsels like Mueller. Under the 1978 law, Congress could mandate the appointment of a special prosecutor. Congress could remove the special prosecutor, and the special prosecutor was required to report to Congress. The executive and legislative branches were both a direct part of the process.


However, the law on special prosecutors expired and it was not renewed. In 1999, the special counsel regulations under which Mueller was appointed became law and remain in effect today. These regulations were written and heavily promoted by President Bill Clinton’s administration. They changed the 1978 law in several important ways. Under the current regulations, the special counsel does not report to Congress. Congress cannot require the appointment or removal of a special counsel. These powers and duties lie exclusively with the attorney general. Section 600.9 of the special counsel regulations backed by the Clinton administration places very limited requirements on the attorney general in regard to what he needs to provide to Congress, and he has already exceeded these requirements.

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“A strategy of insulting the executioner right before he swings his ax is an odd one but, then, Comey has a long record of odd decisions and questionable judgment.”

James Comey Is In Trouble And He Knows It (Hill)

James Comey’s planet is getting noticeably warmer. Attorney General William Barr’s emissions are the suspected cause. Barr has made plain that he intends to examine carefully how and why Comey, as FBI director, decided that the bureau should investigate two presidential campaigns and if, in so doing, any rules or laws were broken. In light of this, the fired former FBI director apparently has decided that photos of him on Twitter standing amid tall trees and in the middle of empty country roads, acting all metaphysical, is no longer a sufficient strategy. No, Comey has realized, probably too late, that he has to try to counter, more directly, the narrative being set by the unsparing attorney general whose words in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee last week landed in the Trump-opposition world like holy water on Linda Blair. Shrieking heads haven’t stopped spinning since.


And so we’ve seen Comey get real busy lately. First he penned a curious op-ed in The New York Times. Then a Times reporter, with whom Comey has cooperated in the past, wrote a news article exposing an early, controversial investigative technique against the Trump campaign in an attempt to get out front and excuse it. Next, Comey is scheduled to be encouraged on a friendly cable news “town hall.” In the op-ed, Comey trotted out his now-familiar St. James schtick, freely pronouncing on the morality of others. He sees himself as a kind of Pontiff-of-the-Potomac working his beads, but comes across more like an unraveling Captain Queeg working his ball bearings. Comey adjudged the president as “amoral.” He declared the attorney general to be “formidable” but “lacking inner strength” unlike — the inference is clear — Comey himself. A strategy of insulting the executioner right before he swings his ax is an odd one but, then, Comey has a long record of odd decisions and questionable judgment.

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[From 2008 to 2016] “the number of Chinese companies issuing bonds soared from just 68 to a peak of 1,451..”

Time to Start Worrying About Global Corporate Debt – Bank of England (DQ)

By 2016, emerging market corporations were issuing ten times more money ($711 billion) than before, much of it in hard foreign currencies (mainly euros, dollars and yen) that will prove much harder to pay back if their local currency slides, as is happening in Turkey and Argentina right now. Although bond issuance by emerging market companies declined by 29% in 2017 and remained around the same level in 2018, it is still approximately 7.5 times higher than the pre-crisis level. Much of the increase has been driven by China as it transitioned from a negligible level of issuance of corporate debt prior to the 2008 crisis to a record issuance amount of $590 billion in 2016.


During that time the number of Chinese companies issuing bonds soared from just 68 to a peak of 1,451 and the total amount of corporate debt in China exploded from $4 trillion to almost $17 trillion, according to BIS data. By late 2018 it had reached $19.7 trillion. “There has been a persistent buildup of private debt to record levels in China,” Cunliffe said. Much of this increase took place in the direct aftermath of the financial crisis. The largest increases have been in the corporate sector, mainly in state-owned enterprises. At last count, China’s corporate debt-to-GDP ratio was 153%, enough to earn it seventh place on WOLF STREET’s leaderboard of countries with the most monstrous corporate debt pileups (as a proportion of GDP), 18 places above the US. This chart compares the rise of non-financial corporate debt in China and the US:

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“Why would investors expect the euro to appreciate? [..] such a scenario is highly implausible.”

Greek Bonds Yield Less Than Treasurys – As Irrational As In 2007 (Ashoka Mody)

Yields on five-year Greek government bonds are lower than those of U.S. Treasurys — and have been this way for the past month. Yes, on 3- and 5-year bonds, Greece, with its rating deep in junk territory, pays investors less than the double-A-plus-rated U.S. government does. Italian, Portuguese, Spanish and French government bonds — also lower-rated than the U.S. — offer lower, indeed considerably lower, yields than the U.S. government does, even for 10-year maturities. Even if we stipulate that Greece’s government is, in fact, as creditworthy as the U.S. government, why would investors accept a lower yield on the Greek bond? And why are they willing to accept the even lower yields on the bonds of other eurozone governments?

One possible reason is that they expect the euro to appreciate. Despite the low eurozone bond yields, investors may expect eventually to boost their returns by selling the expensive euros and buying cheaper dollars and other currencies. Indeed, there is some basis for such a strategy. As of late April, the consensus among analysts was that the euro will appreciate significantly over the next couple of years, and more modestly thereafter; forward markets (where buyers and sellers settle the price of a future transaction in advance) support this consensus view.


But if expectations of an appreciating euro solve the low-bond-yield puzzle, they raise another, deeper puzzle. Why would investors expect the euro to appreciate? [..] such a scenario is highly implausible. Current growth forecasts point worryingly in the opposite direction. The IMF projects world economic growth to slow more markedly than it already did a year ago. Crucially, of all major economies, those in the eurozone appear to be decelerating particularly quickly.

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Fish farms kill.

Have We Reached The End Of Wild? (G.)

In salmon’s case, we have interrupted one of the most dramatic cycles of nature, the wild fish’s journey from the rivers where they spawn to the oceans where they grow and back again. The result is that fish have died, species that eat them have died, communities that depend on them have faded, the food supply has been polluted and a lot of tax dollars have been wasted. [..] In an inspired gambit, Artifishal takes a swerve into the metaphyscial, framing the salmon emergency as a question about the human soul, about what it needs – about what we need – to survive.


The contention of the film-makers is that while it may be human nature to seek dominion and control over the rest of nature, the very thing we need to survive is precisely that which defies our control, that thing which, when we seek to subjugate it, instead either slips through our nets, or is caught and dies. If we drive the wild to extinction, the film suggests, we will bring our own that much closer. “I really hope the film leaves the viewer with this disquieting question, which is, have we reached the end of wild?” said Murphy in a phone conversation near the end of a tour to promote the movie, which debuted at the Tribeca film festival after a tour of screenings in Patagonia stores. “At the outset we kept wondering if we would find a bad guy. And we didn’t. In fact, I kept feeling that the force of antagonism was us – we’re the bad guy. Because humans just are always looking out for themselves.”

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More damage from renewables. There’s no free lunch. The sooner we get that straight, the better.

Only A Third Of World’s Great Rivers Remain Free Flowing (G.)

Only a third of the world’s great rivers remain free flowing, due to the impact of dams that are drastically reducing the benefits healthy rivers provide people and nature, according to a global analysis. Billions of people rely on rivers for water, food and irrigation, but from the Danube to the Yangtze most large rivers are fragmented and degraded. Untouched rivers are largely confined to remote places such as the Arctic and Amazonia. The assessment, the first to tackle the subject on a worldwide level, examined 12m kilometres of rivers and found that just 90 of the 246 rivers more than 1,000km (621 miles) long flowed without interruption.


The scientists, whose research, published in the journal Nature, was led by Günther Grill, at McGill University in Canada, were particularly concerned to discover that only a quarter of long rivers that once flowed freely to the sea, rather than to an inland lake or other river, still had such a course. Separate research in Britain, which included the effects of smaller infrastructure such as weirs, fords and culverts, suggests that 97% of the nation’s river network has been interrupted by human-built structures. Thriving wildlife in rivers is crucial to keeping water clean but freshwater habitats were found to be the hardest hit of all the ecosystems, with wildlife populations having plunged by an average of 83% since 1970 due to dams, overuse of water and pollution.

Great rivers that flow freely are now rare in populated areas. Heavily fragmented rivers include the Danube, Nile, and Euphrates, the Paraná and Missouri in the Americas, the Yangtze and Brahmaputra in Asia, and the Darling in Australia. The Congo and Amazon were found to be among the least affected. The biggest impact comes from physical barriers created by dams, but reservoirs also seriously affect the natural seasonal flow of rivers. “It can be really freaky sometimes, when the electricity is produced one hour on, one hour off, and the river goes up and down by a metre, which is very stressful to the ecosystems downstream,” said Grill. The study estimates that there are about 60,000 large dams worldwide and 3,700 in planning or construction, in addition to millions of smaller dams.

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A cheap way to get young votes. Don’t fall for it. Thes countries fail even their Paris commitments.

Proposal To Spend 25% Of EU Budget On Climate Change (BBC)

Eight European countries have called for an ambitious strategy to tackle climate change – and to spend a quarter of the entire EU budget on fighting it. The joint statement says the EU should have net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 “at the latest”. It was signed by France, Belgium, Denmark, Luxemburg, Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, and Sweden. The group says their plan can “go hand in hand with prosperity” and “set an example for other countries to follow.” The position paper comes ahead of a major summit of European leaders in the Romanian city of Sibiu, beginning on Thursday, which will discuss the future of Europe and the EU’s strategy for the next five years. But not everyone is on board – there are 28 countries in the EU, and several of those absent from the joint position statement are significant players – including Germany.


The position of the eight countries is that climate change has “profound implications for the future of humanity” and that its impacts are already apparent – citing “the heat waves and scorching fires of last summer”. [..] “The EU budget currently under negotiation will be an important tool in this respect: at least 25% of the spending should go to projects aimed at fighting against climate change,” the paper said. Annual EU budgets have spending limits set by what is known as the multiannual financial framework (MFF). The current one allowed the EU to spend more than €900bn between 2014-2020. The eight-nation group is eyeing the next framework, which is set to cover 2021-2027. [..] At the moment, EU countries are required to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 20% from their 1990 levels by 2020, with the aim of raising that to a 40% reduction by 2030. But many are set to miss these targets – some by a wide margin.

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Apr 272019
 


Vincent van Gogh Pietà (after Delacroix) 1889

 

The Big Mystery In The GDP Report – Where Did The Inventories Come From? (MW)
China Finds Dollar Hegemony Is A Tough Nut To Crack (WS)
Nearly 102 Million Americans Do Not Have A Job Right Now (Snyder)
Trump Makes Post-Mueller Vow To Release “Devastating” FISA Docs (ZH)
Blowback Is a Harsh Mistress (Kunstler)
Marina Butina Sentenced To 18 Months In Prison (ZH)
Labour Party In ‘Complete Meltdown’ Over Final Say (Ind.)
London Extinction Rebellion Mural is a Banksy (G.)
Greeks The Most Stressed People Worldwide – Gallup (K.)
Brazil Governed By ‘Lunatics’ And US ‘Lackeys’ – Lula (G.)
Ecuador Amazon Tribe Win First Victory Against Government, Oil Companies (AFP)

 

 

Industrial production and imports are both down. But inventories rise.

The Big Mystery In The GDP Report – Where Did The Inventories Come From? (MW)

It is a case that would make Sherlock Holmes proud. Growth in the first quarter smashed expectations, fueled in part by strong inventory building. According to the government, $32 billion of goods were added to inventories this quarter, or $128 billion annualized. This stockpiling of goods boosted first-quarter GDP growth by about 70 basis points and helped propel growth to a 3.2% annual rate, well above forecasts. The problem is that it is not at all obvious where these inventories came from. Goods have to come from somewhere, either produced by domestic firms or imported from abroad. The mystery is that both production and imports fell in the first three months of the year, according to government data.

“You can’t stockpile what you do not import or do not produce,” said Robert Brusca, chief economist at FAO Economics. The Fed reported last week that industrial output slipped at a 0.3% annual rate in the first quarter. And the government’s GDP report estimates that imports fell 3.7% in the first three months of the year. The one other explanation — that consumption fell sharply enough to leave businesses with unexpected unsold goods — also doesn’t fit the evidence, Brusca said. Consumption did not fall faster than industrial production or imports to generate any surplus, he said. To be sure, spending on consumer durable goods fell 5.3%, the biggest drop in 10 years. Business spending on equipment was also weak. “Any way you slice it, this GDP report…is an apparent mess,” he said.

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Nobody will want the yuan as long as Beijing decides what it’s worth.

China Finds Dollar Hegemony Is A Tough Nut To Crack (WS)

In terms of global reserve currency, the renminbi (RMB) has a share of only 1.9%, in fifth place, and barely ahead of the Canadian dollar, but miles behind the US dollar (61.7%) and the euro (20.7%). Over the past two years, the RMB has made only microscopic headway as a reserve currency. And as an international payments currency, the RMB has failed similarly to crack the co-hegemony of the dollar and the euro. “With more than 1,900 financial institutions now using the RMB for payments with China and Hong Kong, the internationalization of RMB carries great strategic significance” for banks and financial institutions, gushes SWIFT (Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication), which tracks the progress of the RMB as payment currency.


But in March 2019, the RMB had a minuscule share of merely 1.22% for international cross-border payments by value (cross-border payments from one Eurozone country to another Eurozone country are excluded). This minuscule share put the RMB in 8th position, just behind the Swiss franc:

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Civilian labor force participation rate lingers around 63%.

Nearly 102 Million Americans Do Not Have A Job Right Now (Snyder)

At this moment, we are told that only 6.2 million Americans are officially “unemployed”, and that sounds really, really good. But that is only half the story. What the mainstream media rarely mentions is the fact that the number of Americans categorized as “not in the labor force” has absolutely exploded since the last recession. Right now, that number is sitting at 95.577 million. When you add 6.2 million “officially unemployed” Americans to 95.577 million Americans that are categorized as “not in the labor force”, you get a grand total of almost 102 million Americans that do not have a job right now. If that sounds terrible to you, that is because it is terrible.

Yes, the U.S. population has been growing over the last decade, and that is part of the reason why the number of Americans “not in the labor force” has been growing. But overall, the truth is that the level of unemployment in this country is not that much different than it was during the last recession. John Williams of shadowstats.com tracks what the real employment figure would be if honest numbers were being used, and according to him the real rate of unemployment in the United States at the moment is 21.2 percent.

Just before the last recession, the civilian labor force participation rate was sitting at about 66 percent, and that was pretty good. But then the recession hit, and the civilian labor force participation rate fell below 63 percent, and it stayed between 62 percent and 63 percent for an extended period of time. So where are we today? At this moment, we are sitting at just 63.0 percent. Does that look like a recovery to you? Of course not.

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“I’m glad I waited because i thought that maybe they would obstruct if I did it early..”

Trump Makes Post-Mueller Vow To Release “Devastating” FISA Docs (ZH)

President Trump on Thursday renewed his vow to declassify a wide swath of “devastating” documents related to the Russia probe “and much more” – adding that he’s glad he waited until the Mueller investigation was complete. In a Thursday night phone interview on Fox News, host Sean Hannity asked “will you declassify the FISA applications, gang of 8 material, those 302s – what we call on this program ‘the bucket of five’?” To which Trump replied: “Yes, everything is going to be declassified – and more, much more than what you just mentioned. It will all be declassified, and I’m glad I waited because i thought that maybe they would obstruct if I did it early – and I think I was right. So I’m glad I waited, and now the Attorney General can take a look – a very strong look at whatever it is, but it will be declassified and more than what you just mentioned.”

Last September 17th, Trump vowed to release all text messages related to the Russia investigation with no redactions, as well as specific pages from the FBI’s FISA surveillance warrant application on former Trump campaign aide Carter Page, and interviews with the DOJ’s Bruce Ohr. nFour days later, however, Trump said over Twitter that the Justice Department – then headed by Attorney General Jeff Sessions (while the Russia investigation was headed up by Deputy AG Rod Rosenstein) – told him that it might have a negative impact on the Russia probe, and that key US allies had asked him not to release the documents.

“I met with the DOJ concerning the declassification of various UNREDACTED documents,” Trump tweeted. “They agreed to release them but stated that so doing may have a perceived negative impact on the Russia probe. Also, key Allies’ called to ask not to release. Therefore, the Inspector General has been asked to review these documents on an expedited basis. I believe he will move quickly on this (and hopefully other things which he is looking at). In the end I can always declassify if it proves necessary. Speed is very important to me – and everyone!”

That key ally turns out to have been the UK, according to the New York Times., which reported last September that their concern was over material which “includes direct references to conversations between American law enforcement officials and Christopher Steele,” the former MI6 agent who compiled the infamous “Steele Dossier.” We now know, of course, that Steele had extensive contact with Bruce and Nellie Ohr in 2016, while Bruce was the #4 official at the Obama DOJ, and Nellie was working for Fusion GPS – the opposition research firm hired by Hillary Clinton and the DNC to produce the infamous Steele Dossier.

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“Mr. Mueller himself may well be subject to prosecution for destroying evidence and, yes, obstruction of justice…”

Blowback Is a Harsh Mistress (Kunstler)

The Thinking Class behind the bad faith Resistance is about to be beaten within an inch of its place in history with an ugly-stick of reality as The Narrative finally comes to be fairly adjudicated. The Mueller Report was much more than just disappointing; it was a comically inept performance insofar as it managed to overlook the only incidence of collusion that actually took place: namely, the disinfo operation sponsored by the Hillary Clinton campaign in concert with the highest officials of the FBI, the Department of Justice, State Department personnel, the various Intel agencies, and the Obama White house for the purpose of interfering in the 2016 election.


It will turn out that the Mueller Investigation was just an extension of that felonious op, and Mr. Mueller himself may well be subject to prosecution for destroying evidence and, yes, obstruction of justice. John F. Kennedy once observed that “life is unfair.” It is unfair, perhaps, that a TV Reality Show huckster, clown, and rank outsider beat a highly credentialed veteran of the political establishment and that he flaunts his lack of decorum in the Oval Office. But it happens that he was on the side of the truth in the RussiaGate farrago and that happens to place him in a position of advantage going forward.

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The empire destroying lives to uphold a narrative. It no longer matters what these crazies say, and they know it. The public swallows anything thrown at them. Collusion, Assange, Butina, these are all fictional stories, but today they dictate the headlines and dominate the airwaves. Butina is accused of “Ambitious conspiracy”. When she was 22.

Marina Butina Sentenced To 18 Months In Prison (ZH)

Accused Russian spy Marina Butina has been sentenced to 18 months in prison on Friday after pleading guilty to acting as an unregistered agent of a foreign government, the Hill reports. Butina, who was arrested in 2018, pled guilty to the charges in late. 2018. She will only serve nine months, as the judge knocked nine months off her sentence for time served. Prosecutors had recommended that she serve an additional 18 months, while her lawyers had asked for no prison time and her immediate deportation. Butina wasn’t mentioned in the Mueller report. Before her sentencing hearing on Friday, Butina pleaded with the judge for leniency, RT reports.


“My parents discovered my arrest on the morning news they watch in their rural house in a Siberian village,” she told the court. “I love them dearly, but I harmed them morally and financially. They are suffering from all of that. I destroyed my own life as well. I came to the United States not under any orders, but with hope, and now nothing remains but penitence.” Butina arrived in the US on a student visa in 2016 and became active in pro-gun circles. During the investigation into Russian interference that followed Trump’s electoral triumph, she was accused of working with the Russian government to infiltrate the Republican Party and National Rifle Association. Moscow and President Putin have denied any connection with her.

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Corbyn still clings to his dreams of an independent left-wing Britain. But matters haven’t stood still for the past 3 years.

Labour Party In ‘Complete Meltdown’ Over Final Say (Ind.)

Jeremy Corbyn is under growing pressure over his party’s position on a second Brexit referendum after a leaked draft of a campaign leaflet included no mention of a Final Say vote. The Labour leader faced an angry backlash over the flyer, with MPs saying it had triggered “complete meltdown” in the party and left pro-EU MPs “utterly furious”. As the row deepened, 75 MPs and 14 MEPs wrote to Labour’s governing body to demand that “a clear commitment” to another referendum be included in the party’s manifesto for next month’s European parliament elections. Mr Corbyn’s top team is split on whether Labour should support a second referendum. Several senior shadow cabinet ministers want the party to support a public vote on any Brexit deal passed by parliament, but Mr Corbyn’s inner circle say he only supports a referendum on the government’s deal or to avoid a no-deal outcome.


Other shadow ministers oppose another public poll entirely. In their letter to the National Executive Committee (NEC), the MPs and MEPs said Labour had “a clear opportunity to win these elections” if it fully supports a Final Say vote. They wrote: “These elections are about the kind of Europe we want to live in, and we can’t make a convincing case in them without being clear about Brexit. Labour has already, rightly, backed a confirmatory public vote. The overwhelming majority of our members and voters support this, and it is the democratically established policy of the party. “Our members need to feel supported on doorsteps by a clear manifesto that marks us out as the only viable alternative to Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party.

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First, you just have a wall. The next day, you have a wall worth a million dollars.

London Extinction Rebellion Mural is a Banksy (G.)

A Banksy collector and expert believes a mural that appeared at Extinction Rebellion’s Marble Arch base overnight is an authentic piece by the Bristolian street artist. John Brandler, who owns a dozen pieces by Banksy is convinced the artwork – which features the slogan “From this moment despair ends and tactics begin” next to a young girl sitting on the ground holding an Extinction Rebellion logo – is an original because of its execution and theme. The art dealer and gallerist said: “I’m convinced about the one in London for two reasons: it’s a topic that he would support, and it’s a continuation of the Port Talbot piece that appeared in December 2018.

“The name in the corner is not important, the signature is the work. And this is a Banksy. It’s a wonderful statement and a beautiful piece.” The work appeared at the site which had been occupied by climate activists since protests began in the capital almost two weeks ago. A spokesperson for Westminster council confirmed the work was being investigated but had not been authenticated yet. “We’re aware of the possible Banksy which appeared in Marble Arch overnight. Our officers are looking into this,” he said. Banksy has not confirmed whether the painting is legitimate, and his press team did not respond to a request for comment.

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Gallup does really bad surveys.

Greeks The Most Stressed People Worldwide – Gallup (K.)

Greeks are the most stressed people in the world, according to the results of the Gallup 2019 Global Emotions report conducted on a sample of 150,000 people in 140 countries. According to the poll, which was conducted last year, 59 percent of Greeks said they “experienced a lot of stress yesterday,” putting Greece at the top of the chart for the third consecutive year. After Greece on the list are the Philippines, Tanzania and Albania. The same poll asked respondents about their negative experiences and participants from Chad, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Iraq and Iran polled the highest. The survey also polled anger levels with Armenians topping the chart, followd by Iraqis, Iranians and Palestinians. The five countries recording the most positive experiences are Paraguay, Panama, Guatemala, Mexico and El Salvador.

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“Does anyone really think the US is going to favour Brazil?” Lula asked. “Americans think of themselves first, second, third, fourth, fifth – and if there’s any time left over they think about Americans.”

Brazil Governed By ‘Lunatics’ And US ‘Lackeys’ – Lula (G.)

Brazil is being governed by “a bunch of lunatics” and United States “lackeys” who have shattered its international reputation, former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva has claimed in his first interview since being jailed one year ago. Lula, Brazil’s president from 2003 and 2011, surrendered himself to police last April after being convicted on corruption charges he disputes. The 73-year-old leftist had been forbidden from giving face-to-face interviews until Friday, when two Brazilian journalists were allowed to visit him at his prison in southern Brazil following a lengthy legal battle.

Lula told them Brazil needed to undergo period of “self-reflection” after what he described as the “crazy” fake news and hate-filled election of far-right populist Jair Bolsonaro last year. “What we can’t have is this country being run governed by a bunch of lunatics. The country doesn’t deserve this and above all the people do not deserve this.” “Brazil is adrift – so far he doesn’t know what to do,” he added of Bolsonaro, who took office in January and has suffered a turbulent opening act in power. Lula said he profoundly regretted “the disaster that is taking place in this country” and criticised Brazil’s dramatic tack towards Washington under Bolsonaro.

“I’ve never seen a [Brazilian] president salute the American flag. I’ve never seen a president go around saying, ‘I love the United States, I love it!’” Lula said of Bolsonaro, who paints himself as a “tropical Trump” and last month travelled to the United States to tout his close relations with the US president. “You should love your mother, you should love your country. What’s all this about loving the United States? “Does anyone really think the US is going to favour Brazil?” Lula asked. “Americans think of themselves first, second, third, fourth, fifth – and if there’s any time left over they think about Americans. And these Brazilian lackeys go around thinking the Americans will do anything for us.”

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Funny that AFP headline said they won vs oil companies. But in reality they beat Lenin Moreno trying to sell them off to the US, like he did Assange. There is SOME decency left in Ecuador.

Ecuador Amazon Tribe Win First Victory Against Government, Oil Companies (AFP)

Ecuador’s Waorani indigenous tribe won their first victory Friday against big oil companies in a ruling that blocks the companies’ entry onto ancestral Amazonian lands for oil exploration activities. After two weeks of deliberations, a criminal court in Puyo, central Ecuador, accepted a Waorani bid for court protection in Pastaza province to stop an oil bidding process after the government moved to open up around 180,000 hectares for exploration. The lands are protected under Ecuador’s constitution that establishes the “inalienable, unseizable and indivisible” rights of indigenous people “to maintain possession of their ancestral lands and obtain their free adjudication.” Crucially, however, the wealth in the subsoil is owned by the state.


The constitution also enshrines the need for prior consultation on any plans to exploit the underground resources, given the probable environmental and cultural impacts on tribal communities. The state reached an agreement with the Waorani over oil exploration in 2012, but the tribe’s leaders say they were duped. The judges ordered the government to conduct a new consultation, applying standards set by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, based in San Jose. The ruling “has created a significant precedent for the Amazon,” said Lina Maria Espinosa, attorney for the plaintiffs, outside court. “It has been demonstrated that there was no consultation and that the state violated the rights of this people, and therefore of other peoples.”

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Aug 282018
 
 August 28, 2018  Posted by at 9:38 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,  17 Responses »


Vincent van Gogh Cypresses in starry night (reed pen) 1889

 

Meadows: FBI/DOJ Leaked To Press, Used Articles To Obtain FISA Warrants (ZH)
Lanny Davis Admits Being Source For CNN Trump Tower “Bombshell” (ZH)
Trump Announces US-Mexico Trade Deal, Setting Stage For Nafta Overhaul (G.)
Iran Says It Has Full Control Of Gulf And US Navy Does Not Belong There (R.)
Theresa May Says A No-Deal Brexit ‘Wouldn’t Be The End Of The World’ (G.)
Out In Left Field (Kunstler)
Skripals – When the BBC Hide the Truth (Craig Murray)
‘Criminal’ Roger Waters Blacklisted By Ukraine Over Russian Interviews (RT)
Greece Needs €4.7 Billion In Additional Tax Revenues To Reach Targets (K.)
Children Attempting Suicide At Greek Refugee Camp (BBC)
The Impending End Of Most Life On Earth (G.)

 

 

2nd special counsel, where are you?

Meadows: FBI/DOJ Leaked To Press, Used Articles To Obtain FISA Warrants (ZH)

Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows (R-NC) dropped a late-night bombshell on Monday suggesting there’s evidence that the FBI and DOJ rigged their own FISA spy warrants by leaking information to the press, then using the resultant articles to obtain court authorization to surveil targets. “We’ve learned NEW information suggesting our suspicions are true: FBI/DOJ have previously leaked info to the press, and then used those same press stories as a separate source to justify FISA’s,” tweeted Meadows. Until now, we’ve known that the creator of the so-called Steele Dossier, former UK spy Christopher Steele, leaked information directly to Yahoo! News journalist Michael Isikoff – whose article became a supporting piece of evidence in the FBI’s FISA warrant application and subsequent renewals for Trump adviser Carter Page.

So while we’ve known that Steele seeded Isikoff with information from his dubious dossier, and that the FBI then used both Steele’s dossier and Isikoff’s Steele-inspired article to game the FISA system, Rep. Mark Meadows now says that the FBI/DOJ directly leaked information to the press, which they then used for the same type of FISA scheme. Strong evidence was discovered in January suggesting that former FBI employee Lisa Page leaked privileged information to Devlin Barrett, formerly of the Wall Street Journal and now with the Washington Post. Whether any of Barrett’s reporting was subsequently used to obtain a FISA warrant is unknown.

Meanwhile, Rep. Meadows’s Monday night tweet comes hours before twice-demoted DOJ employee Bruce Ohr is set to give closed-door testimony to the House Oversight Committee. Ohr was caught lying about his involvement with opposition research firm Fusion GPS co-founder Glenn Simpson – who employed Steele. Ohr’s CIA-linked wife, Nellie, was also employed by Fusion as part of the firm’s anti-Trump efforts, and had ongoing communications with the ex-UK spy, Christopher Steele as well.

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Cohen’s lawyer is the best thing that happened to Trump in ages.

Lanny Davis Admits Being Source For CNN Trump Tower “Bombshell” (ZH)

On July 26th, CNN unleashed a “bombshell” report that Michael Cohen was claiming that candidate Trump knew in advance about the infamous 2016 Trump Tower meeting. Dropping this line in the middle of their story: “Contacted by CNN, one of Cohen’s attorneys, Lanny Davis, declined to comment.”Then, last week, amid the deafening euphoria of the ‘anti-Trump’-ers, Davis told Anderson Cooper: “I think the reporting of the story got mixed up in the course of a criminal investigation. We were not the source of the story.” Davis increasingly backed away from the story in recent days, telling the Washington Post that he is not certain if the claim is accurate, and that he could not independently corroborate it. Destroying CNN’s “bombshell” story, crushing the hopes of millions of ‘not my president’-ers.

As Buzzfeed notes, after Davis publicly backtracked from the claims, the New York Post and the Washington Post outed him as their confirming source and published apologies from Davis But, of course, CNN was giving up such a great story so easily (whether it’s true or fake news), and followed up anxiously by none other than Brian Stelter who gushed over Twitter in the face of Davis’ refutation of their entire story that: ” Re: CNN’s July 27 story about Cohen claiming that Trump knew in advance about the Trump Tower meeting: “We stand by our story, and are confident in our reporting of it.”” All of which brings up to date, safe in the knowledge that despite Davis’ denial that CNN’s story ever occurred, CNN has “a source” that confirmed it and that’s good enough for them.

BUT… Now, after all that pre-amble, double-talk, and utterly bullshit fake news reporting, Lanny Davis – who we perhaps need to remind readers once again is an extremely well-paid f**king lawyer and communications expert – has told Buzzfeed that he was the anonymous source in a July CNN story. Tonight, Davis told BuzzFeed News that he regrets both his role as an anonymous source and his subsequent denial of his own involvement. Davis told BuzzFeed News that he did, in fact, speak anonymously to CNN for its story, which cited “sources with knowledge” — meaning more than one person. “I made a mistake,” Davis said. Regarding his comments about a month later to Cooper, he added, “I did not mean to be cute.”

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Canada on hold.

Trump Announces US-Mexico Trade Deal, Setting Stage For Nafta Overhaul (G.)

Donald Trump has said he will strike a new trade deal with Mexico while ripping up the North American Free Trade Agreement (Nafta) and threatening a trade war with Canada. “I’ll be terminating the existing deal and going into this deal,” the US president told reporters in the Oval Office on Monday. “We’ll be starting negotiating with Canada relatively soon. They want to negotiate very badly.” He added: “One way or the other, we have a deal with Canada. It’ll either be a tariff on cars or it will be a negotiated deal. Frankly, a tariff on cars is a much easier way to go but perhaps the other would be much better for Canada.”

Trump also said it might be possible to make a deal involving all three countries, like the 24-year-old Nafta pact, but that separate bilateral agreements are also a possibility. However, any trade deal would have to first be approved by Congress, and time is running out. Mexico’s President Enrique Peña Nieto will soon leave office and there is no guarantee his successor, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, will agree to the same terms. Nafta reduced most trade barriers between the US, Mexico and Canada. But Trump and other critics say it encouraged US manufacturers to move south of the border to exploit low-wage Mexican labour.

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They have a point.

Iran Says It Has Full Control Of Gulf And US Navy Does Not Belong There (R.)

Iran has full control of the Gulf, and the U.S. Navy does not belong there, the head of the navy of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, General Alireza Tangsiri, said on Monday, according to the Tasnim news agency. The remarks come at a time when Tehran has suggested that it could take military action in the Gulf to block oil exports of other regional countries in retaliation for U.S. sanctions intended to halt its oil sales. Washington maintains a fleet in the Gulf which protects oil shipping routes. Tangsiri said Iran had full control of both the Gulf itself and the Strait of Hormuz that leads into it. Closing off the strait would be the most direct way of blocking shipping.

“We can ensure the security of the Persian Gulf and there is no need for the presence of aliens like the U.S. and the countries whose home is not in here,” he said in the quote, which appeared in English translation on Tasnim. Tension between Iran and the United States has escalated since President Donald Trump pulled out of a 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and world powers in May and reimposed sanctions.

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Just the end of her.

Theresa May Says A No-Deal Brexit ‘Wouldn’t Be The End Of The World’ (G.)

Theresa May claimed that a no-deal Brexit “wouldn’t be the end of the world” as she sought to downplay a controversial warning made by Philip Hammond last week that it would cost £80bn in extra borrowing and inhibit long-term economic growth. The prime minister conceded that crashing out of the European Union without a deal “wouldn’t be a walk in the park” but went on to argue that the UK could make an economic success of the unprecedented situation if it proved impossible to negotiate a satisfactory divorce. Her comments were designed to distance herself from pessimistic Treasury forecasts highlighted by the chancellor at the end of last week, predictions that incensed the Tory right and led to renewed calls from hard Brexiters for Hammond’s dismissal.

Speaking to reporters as she began a three-day trip to Africa, May cited and endorsed remarks about the Brexit situation made last week by Roberto Azevêdo, the director general of the World Trade Organisation, to justify a gentle rebuke of the chancellor. The prime minister said: “Look at what the director general of the World Trade Organisation has said. He has said about the no-deal situation that it will not be a walk in the park, but it wouldn’t be the end of the world. “What the government is doing is putting in place the preparation such that if we are in that situation, we can make a success of it, just as we can make a success of a good deal.”

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Huber. Remember the name.

Out In Left Field (Kunstler)

With Russian “meddling” stalled in the dead letter office, The New York Times has apparently re-branded itself Floozie Central in its quixotic campaign to unseat the Golden Golem of Greatness by all means necessary. The Stormy Daniels affair, and its slime-trail of payoffs, is the slender thread that the Resistance hopes to hang Donald Trump on. The great legal minds of cable TV have been very busy trying to suss out which part of the $130,000 non-disclosure payoff might apply as a campaign financing violation. If Rudy Giuliani still had his wits about him, of course, he would claim that the money was just Ms. Daniel’s going rate for an overnight frolic amongst her legendary twin peaks, that is, a sex worker’s simple transaction fee.

Where does it say in the constitution that a president may not consort with tramps and hussies? It was hilarious to discover that Mr. Trump’s erstwhile personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, picked DC Swamp attorney and Clinton insider, Lanny Davis, to represent him in negotiations with Special Counsel Robert Mueller. It must be like the old days in the locker room of the Burning Tree Golf Club for Lanny and Bob. They go back at least to the days when the Clintons fended off accusations of issuing pardons to special friends for a $450,000 payoff on Bubba’s last day in office, January 19, 2001. And there must have been a reunion around 2010 on the Uranium One matter, in which a tidy $145-million from Russian Oligarch Central landed in the Clinton Foundation coffers after Madam Secretary Hillary signed onto a go-ahead with the U-1 deal.

Meanwhile, way out in Left Field — Salt Lake City, actually —a forgotten lone ranger named John W. Huber is ostensibly toiling away on a roster of allegations so far ignored by the Mueller team, namely the politicization of the FBI and the Department of Justice, and the actions taken deviously by senior employees there against Mr. Trump during and after the 2016 election. Mr. Huber was tapped to carry out this assignment by Attorney General Jeff Sessions late in 2017.

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BBC Newsnight correspondent Mark Urban met with Skripal multiple times in 2017.

Skripals – When the BBC Hide the Truth (Craig Murray)

On 8 July 2018 a lady named Kirsty Eccles asked what, in its enormous ramifications, historians may one day see as the most important Freedom of Information request ever made. The rest of this post requires extremely close and careful reading, and some thought, for you to understand that claim. “Dear British Broadcasting Corporation, 1: Why did BBC Newsnight correspondent Mark Urban keep secret from the licence payers that he had been having meetings with Sergei Skripal only last summer. 2: When did the BBC know this? 3: Please provide me with copies of all correspondence between yourselves and Mark Urban on the subject of Sergei Skripal. Yours faithfully, Kirsty Eccles

The ramifications of this little request are enormous as they cut right to the heart of the ramping up of the new Cold War, of the BBC’s propaganda collusion with the security services to that end, and of the concoction of fraudulent evidence in the Steele “dirty dossier”. This also of course casts a strong light on more plausible motives for an attack on the Skripals. Which is why the BBC point blank refused to answer Kirsty’s request, stating that it was subject to the Freedom of Information exemption for “Journalism”.

“The information you have requested is excluded from the Act because it is held for the purposes of ‘journalism, art or literature.’ The BBC is therefore not obliged to provide this information to you. Part VI of Schedule 1 to FOIA provides that information held by the BBC and the other public service broadcasters is only covered by the Act if it is held for ‘purposes other than those of journalism, art or literature”. The BBC is not required to supply information held for the purposes of creating the BBC’s output or information that supports and is closely associated with these creative activities.”

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Fun.

‘Criminal’ Roger Waters Blacklisted By Ukraine Over Russian Interviews (RT)

Pink Floyd founder Roger Waters has found himself blacklisted by being added to the Ukrainian database of national enemies, after statements to Russian media about Crimea and the conflict in Ukraine. Waters, 74, is wrapping up his US+Them European tour with concerts in St. Petersburg and Moscow this week and spoke with several Russian outlets about both music and his political activism. The rock musician has been an outspoken champion of the Palestinian cause and a critic of Western-backed rebels in Syria. On Monday, however, his name appeared in the “purgatory” database of Mirotvorets (Peacemaker), maintained by people connected with Ukraine’s security and intelligence services and listing alleged enemies of the state.

The site says “criminal” Waters is responsible of “anti-Ukrainian propaganda, attacks on the territorial integrity of Ukraine [and] participation in attempts to legalize the Russian annexation of Crimea.” As proof, the site lists links to two interviews Waters gave to Russian media outlets RIA and Izvestiya, and quotes specifically a statement about the city of Sevastopol being Russian and important to Russians. Waters called “laughable” the idea of blaming Russia for the conflict in Ukraine and said the blame rests with Victoria Nuland, the senior State Department official for Europe and Eurasia during the Obama administration. [..] Waters also expressed concern about the US leadership, which he said does not seem to recognize any agreements and does whatever it wants. Such a policy will eventually get everyone killed, the rock star told Izvestiya, in an interview published Monday.

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Already grossly overtaxed.

Greece Needs €4.7 Billion In Additional Tax Revenues To Reach Targets (K.)

The Greek government will have to collect additional tax revenues of 4.7 billion euros in the first post-bailout period of enhanced supervision (2018-2022) by its creditors, in order to achieve the agreed primary surpluses and record surpluses. These revenues are not expected to come only from economic growth but also from the imposition of new taxes, notably the trimming of the tax reduction from a current level of 1,900 euros to 1,250 euros – a change that will affect 6 million salaried employees and pensioners.

In 2018, direct taxes are projected to generate 17.4 billion euros, slightly less than the 17.7 billion of 2017. The reduction is entirely attributable to the fact that high tax rates result in an ever-increasing reduction of declared incomes. As for indirect taxes, they are expected to drop to 35.2 billion euros this year compared with 35.4 billion in 2017, while no significant change is expected for 2019, despite the projected economic growth. For 2020, tax revenues are expected to rise further when the government is seen reducing the tax-free threshold. It is indicative that revenues from direct taxes are seen rising to 18.40 billion euros that year, versus 17.43 billion in 2019.

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“..her family spend all day queuing for food at the camp and all night ready to run..”

Children Attempting Suicide At Greek Refugee Camp (BBC)

At Moria camp on the Greek island of Lesbos, there is deadly violence, overcrowding, appalling sanitary conditions and now a charity says children as young as 10 are attempting suicide. The Victoria Derbyshire programme has been given rare access inside. “We are always ready to escape, 24 hours a day we have our children ready,” says Sara Khan, originally from Afghanistan. “The violence means our little ones don’t get to sleep.” Sara explains that her family spend all day queuing for food at the camp and all night ready to run – in fear of the fights that break out constantly. Conditions are so appalling that charities have actually left in protest.

The place smells of raw sewage, and there are around 70 people per toilet, according to medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF). Some people live in mobile cabins, but rammed in-between them all are tents and tarpaulin sheets – homes for those who cannot obtain any official living space. The camp is also now sprawling into surrounding countryside. One tent houses 17 people – four families under one canvas. MSF says there are currently more than 8,000 people crammed into Moria camp, which was supposed to house 3,000. [..] The camp opened in 2015 and was initially designed as a transit post for people to stay for a matter of days – but some have been here for years.

It is controlled by the Greek government, and the overcrowding is because Greece is enforcing the EU’s “containment” policy, keeping people on the island rather than transferring them to the Greek mainland. It is part of the EU-Turkey deal which aims to return thousands of refugees to Turkey, and it has been in force since March 2016. From then to July 2018, according to EU figures, 71,645 new refugees arrived in Greece by sea and only 2,224 have been returned to Turkey. George Matthaiou, a Greek government press representative on Moria, concedes conditions are terrible, but blames the EU rather than Greece. “We don’t have the money. You know the situation of Greece, economically,” he says. “I want to help but I can do nothing, because the European Union closed the borders.”

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“I’m not going to write anymore because there’s nothing more that can be said..”

The Impending End Of Most Life On Earth (G.)

We’re doomed,” says Mayer Hillman with such a beaming smile that it takes a moment for the words to sink in. “The outcome is death, and it’s the end of most life on the planet because we’re so dependent on the burning of fossil fuels. There are no means of reversing the process which is melting the polar ice caps. And very few appear to be prepared to say so.” Hillman, an 86-year-old social scientist and senior fellow emeritus of the Policy Studies Institute, does say so. His bleak forecast of the consequence of runaway climate change, he says without fanfare, is his “last will and testament”. His last intervention in public life. “I’m not going to write anymore because there’s nothing more that can be said,” he says when I first hear him speak to a stunned audience at the University of East Anglia late last year.

From Malthus to the Millennium Bug, apocalyptic thinking has a poor track record. But when it issues from Hillman, it may be worth paying attention. Over nearly 60 years, his research has used factual data to challenge policymakers’ conventional wisdom. In 1972, he criticised out-of-town shopping centres more than 20 years before the government changed planning rules to stop their spread. In 1980, he recommended halting the closure of branch line railways – only now are some closed lines reopening. In 1984, he proposed energy ratings for houses – finally adopted as government policy in 2007. And, more than 40 years ago, he presciently challenged society’s pursuit of economic growth.

[..] In 1971, 80% of British seven- and eight-year-old children went to school on their own; today it’s virtually unthinkable that a seven-year-old would walk to school without an adult. As Hillman has pointed out, we’ve removed children from danger rather than removing danger from children – and filled roads with polluting cars on school runs. He calculated that escorting children took 900m adult hours in 1990, costing the economy £20bn each year. It will be even more expensive today.

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Feb 032018
 
 February 3, 2018  Posted by at 11:08 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  2 Responses »


Frank Larson Times Square, New York 1954

 

FISA Memo Released: Here’s What It Says (ZH)
Dow Plummets 666 Points, Capping Worst Week In 2 Years (CNBC)
Did The Market Just Get “Woke?” (Roberts)
Over $100 Billion Wiped Off Global Cryptocurrency Market In 24 Hours (CNBC)
Bitcoin Ban Expands Across Credit Cards as Big US Banks Recoil (BBG)
Sotu Klaatu Barada Nikto (Jim Kunstler)
UK Interest Rates Will Rise At The End Of February (G.)
Green Brexit Is Impossible To Guarantee, EU Is Warned (G.)
German Carmakers Have Lost All Moral Standing (Spiegel)
How YouTube’s Algorithm Distorts Truth (G.)
Blockchain To Track Congo’s Cobalt From Mine To Mobile (R.)
Congo Gripped By Fear As Thousands Flee ‘Bone-Chilling’ Violence (G.)
WikiLeaks Has Published Leaks On Trump Admin And Russia, Seeking More (CJ)
‘Ultra-Processed’ Products Now Half Of All UK Family Food Purchases (G.)

 

 

The differences in interpretation across the aisle are far more stunning than the memo itself is.

FISA Memo Released: Here’s What It Says (ZH)

Update: The just released FISA memo accuses senior officials at the DOJ of inappropriately using biased opposition research into then-candidate Trump to obtain surveillance warrants on transition team members as part of the federal investigation into the Trump campaign and Russia. According to the document, information from the the so-called Steele dossier was “essential” to the acquisition of surveillance warrants on Trump campaign aide Carter Page. It claims that then-deputy FBI director Andrew McCabe told the committee in December that without the information from the Steele dossier, no surveillance warrant for Page would have been sought. The memo alleges that the political origins of the dossier — paid for by Hillary Clinton and the DNC — were not disclosed to the clandestine court that signed off on the warrant request.

The document claims that although the FBI had “clear evidence” that the author of the dossier, former British spy Christopher Steele, was biased against Trump, it did not convey that to the surveillance court when making its warrant applications. Steele told then-associate deputy attorney general Bruce Ohr that he was “desperate that Donald Trump not get elected and was passionate about him not being president,” the memo says. House conservatives have touted the memo’s revelations as “worse than Watergate” and hinted that it could prove the undoing of the federal investigation into Trump’s campaign. Meanwhile, Democrats on the panel say that it is a cherry-picked set of inaccurate accusations designed to kneecap special counsel Robert Mueller. They have drafted their own counter-memo to rebut the Republican-drafted document, but the majority voted against immediately making that document public earlier this week.

The memo is based on a slate of highly-classified materials provided to the committee by the Justice Department itself, in a closed-door deal brokered by Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.). Naturally, the DOJ has claimed that the release of the memo is an abrogation of the terms of that deal, an assertion spokesmen for both Ryan and Nunes have rejected. Meanwhile, the underlying evidence remains classified, a state of affairs that Democrats and some national security analysts say makes it impossible to independently verify the memo’s conclusions. As The Hill reported earlier, ahead of the document’s release, Paul Ryan privately urged House Republicans not to overplay the document — and not to tie it to the Mueller investigation.

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10 years ago, a drop of 777 was the biggest news on the planet. Today, 666 gets poo-poohed into nothingness.

Dow Plummets 666 Points, Capping Worst Week In 2 Years (CNBC)

U.S. stocks fell sharply on Friday after a stronger-than-expected jobs report sent interest rates higher. The Dow Jones industrial average dropped 665.75 points to close at 25,520.96, capping off the index’s sixth-largest points decline ever. The 30-stock index also fell below 26,000. Friday also marked the first time since June 2016 that the Dow fell at least 500 points. The S&P 500 fell 2.1% and finished at 2,762.13, with energy as the worst-performing sector. The Nasdaq composite plunged 1.96% to 7,240.95 as a decline in Apple and Alphabet offset a strong gain in Amazon shares. The Dow posted its worst day since June 2016. The S&P 500 and Nasdaq had their biggest one-day fall since September 2016 and August 2017, respectively.

“The key for the market today is rising interest rates,” said Mike Baele, managing director at U.S. Bank Wealth Management. “The old adage is: ‘Bull markets don’t die of old age, they are killed by higher interest rates.’ That looms large.” The U.S. economy added 200,000 jobs in January, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Economists polled by Reuters expected growth of 180,000. Wages, meanwhile, rose 2.9% on an annualized basis. The report sent interest rates higher. The benchmark 10-year yield rose to 2.85% on the back of the report, hitting a four-year high. Investors have been jittery about the recent rise in interest rates, worrying they may be rising too fast. On Friday, the 30-year yield rose its highest level since March.

Bank stocks fell as the yield curve widened. The SPDR S&P Bank exchange-traded fund, which tracks bank stocks, dropped 1.2%. Banks typically benefit from higher interest rates. This has been a volatile week for U.S. stocks. The Cboe Volatility index, widely considered the best fear gauge in the market, rose from 11.08 this week to 17.31.

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That graph is stunning.

Did The Market Just Get “Woke?” (Roberts)

Since the beginning of this year, we have been warning of the potential for a correction. Of course, such warnings seemed pointless as the nearly “parabolic” rise in the markets seemed unstoppable. But all of a sudden, something seems to have changed as the market stumbled this past week and has been unable to regain its footing.

So, what “woke” the markets? Was it the sudden realization that Central Banks globally are reducing Q.E. programs? Or, that economic growth may be weaker than expected given recent numbers? Or, something else? Whatever, the excuse turns out to be, the real culprit is seen in the chart below.

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By now, there are some really big losers out there.

Over $100 Billion Wiped Off Global Cryptocurrency Market In 24 Hours (CNBC)

Over $100 billion was wiped off the global cryptocurrency market in 24 hours on Friday amid concerns over tighter regulation and worries that the bitcoin price was manipulated on a major exchange. The total market capitalization or value of all cryptocurrencies in circulation stood at $405 billion Friday morning New York time, according to data from CoinMarketCap.com, which takes into account the prices of digital coins across a number of key exchanges. This was a fall of $112.6 billion in value from a day before. Cryptocurrencies have seen a major sell-off this week. Bitcoin fell below $9,000 on Thursday and briefly dropped below $8,000 Friday morning, according to CoinDesk’s bitcoin price index, which tracks prices from four major cryptocurrency exchanges.

Other major coins including ethereum and ripple were down 12% and 13%, respectively, compared to a day ago as of 9:58 a.m., ET, Friday. The cryptocurrency world has been plagued by a spate of negative news. India’s Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said the country wants to “eliminate” the use of digital currencies in criminal activities, signaling tighter regulation in the country. The New York Times reported Wednesday that an increasing number of digital currency investors are worried the price of bitcoin and other digital currencies have been inflated by cryptocurrency exchange Bitfinex, which is included in CoinDesk’s price index. Bloomberg reported Tuesday that in December, the U.S. Commodity Futures and Trading Commission subpoenaed Bitfinex and a cryptocurrency company called Tether, which is run by many of the same executives.

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What, they figured there was no more profit in there?

Bitcoin Ban Expands Across Credit Cards as Big US Banks Recoil (BBG)

A growing number of big U.S. credit-card issuers are deciding they don’t want to finance a falling knife. JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America and Citigroup said they’re halting purchases of Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies on their credit cards. JPMorgan, enacting the ban Saturday, doesn’t want the credit risk associated with the transactions, company spokeswoman Mary Jane Rogers said. Bank of America started declining credit card transactions with known crypto exchanges on Friday. The policy applies to all personal and business credit cards, according to a memo. It doesn’t affect debit cards, said company spokeswoman Betty Riess.

And late Friday, Citigroup said it too will halt purchases of cryptocurrencies on its credit cards. “We will continue to review our policy as this market evolves,” company spokeswoman Jennifer Bombardier said. Allowing purchases of cryptocurrencies can create big headaches for lenders, which can be left on the hook if a borrower bets wrong and can’t repay. There’s also the risk that thieves will abuse cards that were purloined or based on stolen identities, turning them into crypto hoards. Banks also are required by regulators to monitor customer transactions for signs of money laundering – which isn’t as easy once dollars are converted into digital coins.

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From before the memo release. As I said, it’s the interpretation more than the memo itself.

Sotu Klaatu Barada Nikto (Jim Kunstler)

The situation certainly puts the nation in a quandary. An uncouth and ridiculous President called forth to battle a vicious, dishonest, bureaucracy and in particular its gigantic, out-of-control “security” apparatus, which appears to have been hijacked by politically interested parties — namely, the minions of Hillary Clinton. You have been reminded here before that history is the supreme prankster. In Fourth Turning terms, the poor old disintegrating USA pined for a “gray champion” and all it got was this booby prize: a Manhattan real estate schmikler with a mean streak. Well, that’s how things roll in a long emergency. And this might only be the beginning of it. In any case, it appears that the FBI, in the hallowed words of Ricky Ricardo, has got some ‘splainin’ to do.

Recall, it was not so long ago that the FBI was run by a cross-dressing maniac addicted to blackmail, so let’s not act as if the agency was something that the Lord Yahweh brought into being on the fifth day of creation, after the lobsters and the cockateels. Granted, J. Edgar Hoover was a hard act to follow, but we are now, evidently, living in an age of even lower men (and women, to be fair). CNN reminded viewers relentlessly last night that The Memo was sure to be a disappointment, a “nothingburger,” for a nation that expects a righteous half-pound beef patty with lettuce, tomato, pickle, and special sauce on a sesame bun. Personally, I expect something more like a three-day-old dead carp in a plain brown wrapper. Maybe “the Resistance” will try to make gefilte fish out of it, which is a burger of sorts: chopped meat, anyway.

Meanwhile, we await the report of DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz, who has been rooting around in the same burger den as the House and Senate committees, questioning the same cast of characters. The DOJ report is liable to be more damaging than The Memo. The whole nasty gumball of suspicion and innuendo seems destined to climax in a constitutional crisis. Ludicrous as it seems — like some rogue army out of the stupid Star Wars epic — the “Resistance” bethinks itself the nation’s savior. In the best American tradition, they’ll burn the joint down in order to save it.

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Another little Brexit surprise.

UK Interest Rates Will Rise At The End Of February (G.)

There’s going to be an interest rate rise on 28 February. In just a few weeks you are going to see about 0.25% added to mortgage and savings rates. But you won’t see a press release from the Bank of England that the base rate has gone up. Instead, for the first time in years, banks are going to be scrambling to offer savers better rates – and the losers will be anyone taking out a new mortgage. So what’s happening? On 28 February an extraordinary financial measure, put in place in the days after the Brexit vote, will end. It was called the Term Funding Scheme and was designed to make sure that the 0.25% rate cut in the wake of the shock referendum result in 2016, did actually feed through the financial system (while keeping them profitable). Under the scheme, banks and building societies were able to borrow money from the Bank of England almost for free.

They did so with gusto. They have so far taken £106bn under the scheme, equal to around £3,500 for every working person in the country. Lloyds took £18bn, RBS £14bn, Barclays £10bn, Nationwide £9.5bn and Santander £8bn. Nearly everyone rushed to grab their share: from the tiny Holmesdale building society – which took £4m – through to the Nottingham building society (£395m) and Virgin Money (£4.2bn). Specialist lender Aldermore, which does a lot of buy-to-let mortgages, has drawn £1.4bn from the scheme over a period during which its total net lending has been £1.5bn. It underlines just how important the cash has been. With all this money gushing out of the Bank of England, it has meant that no one has really had to bother chasing savers for their money. So savings rates, already massively depressed by the 2012 Funding for Lending Scheme, were hit further.

But the corner will be turned on 28 February. On that date, the banks and building societies will have to start repaying that £106bn. They’ll have a few years to do it, so maybe I’m being a little dramatic suggesting rates will rise overnight. But let’s say I wouldn’t, right now, lock myself into Lloyds’ one-year bond paying 0.4% or NatWest’s two-year bond paying 0.85%. The banks are going to have to offer much better rates than that to bring the money in. Some of the big banks may pooh-pooh this. Yes, £18bn sounds like a lot for Lloyds, but then it has an £800bn balance sheet, so it’s hardly fatal. But when rivals start offering as much as 3% to get you to move money, banks won’t have a choice but to raise rates. According to Paul Richards, chairman of Insignis Cash Solutions: “It’s likely we will see a 0.25%-0.5% increase in longer-term savings rates over the next 12 months and potentially up to 1% over the next 24-36 months, which could leave a one-year term account getting close to the 3% level.”

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Why should the EU feel ‘warned’ about what may happen when the UK is no longer part of the EU?

Green Brexit Is Impossible To Guarantee, EU Is Warned (G.)

The European Conservative and Reformist group which represents Conservative MEPs has has said Brexit will make it “impossible” to guarantee that current environmental standards can be maintained in Britain or the EU. A leaked document seen by the Guardian also calls for “the closest possible working relationship” between the EU and UK after Brexit, and for a “no regression clause” in future British trade deals. This would “limit any negative effects from deregulation,” says the paper, which was submitted to the European parliament’s Brexit environment steering group. Some Conservative MEPs claimed not to have seen the report that was submitted. The parliament’s Brexit coordinator, Guy Verhofstadt, told the Guardian: “Suggestions that the UK might seek to lower environmental standards after Brexit are alarming and contradict the commitments made by prime minister May in her Florence speech.”

They also showed why a future deal “must contain precise and detailed safeguards, with robust sanctions, to ensure the maintenance of high standards and a level playing field,” he said. The EU’s environmental laws are among its most popular, with polls showing that over 80% of Britons support the same levels of protection – or higher – after Brexit. During the referendum campaign, key government ministers said EU laws such as the birds and habitats directive were “spirit-crushing” and would be scrapped. But Theresa May has sought to defuse fears of conservation backsliding by trying to make the environment a selling point of leaving the bloc. “Let me be very clear,” May said in a speech last month. “Brexit will not mean a lowering of environmental standards.” “We will use the opportunity Brexit provides to strengthen and enhance our environmental protections – not to weaken them.”

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Still haven’t seen one word about prosecuting the people behind all this. Incredible.

German Carmakers Have Lost All Moral Standing (Spiegel)

Starting in 2007, BMW, Daimler, Volkswagen and Bosch maintained a joint lobby organization that was disguised as a research institute. The European Research Association for the Environment and Health in the Transportation Sector (EUGT) purported to dedicate itself to the “environmental-medical effects of road traffic.” But the staff in leadership posts alone shows that the institute was in no way interested in independent research. EUGT head Michael Spallek, for example, had previously spent years employed as a leading company doctor at VW. He retained his VW email address, even after his move to EUGT. The results of the institute’s research were accordingly one-sided. The efficacy of low emission zones in cities that place restrictions on driving cars with high emissions?

There’s no proof, according to one essay the lobby group managed to place in a trade publication for respiratory medicine. Nighttime noise pollution from cars? It’s no problem, as long as it’s continuous. Do diesel emissions cause cancer? Can’t be proven. A short time later, former VW manager and EUGT head Spallek approved the tests with the monkeys. “We have finished our discussions with the company lawyers,” Spallek wrote in an email dating June 14, 2013. The lawyers had given the green light for the study to be carried out, but with one restriction: Non-human primates were to be used instead of human volunteers. Several VW executives at the time were copied in the message, including Stuart Johnson, the head of the company’s Engineering and Environmental Office in the United States.

But it doesn’t appear as though any critical questions were asked. The aim of the experiment with the monkeys had been to deliver definitive proof of how clean “German diesel” really is. The case files compiled by attorney Melkersen illustrate the zeal with which VW’s people organized the test. Nothing was left to chance when engineer James Liang began his journey with a bright-red VW Beetle from California to New Mexico at the beginning of October 2014. The engineer from company headquarters in Wolfsburg, Germany, was already under pressure, even at that point. The U.S. environmental authorities had expressed their doubts about the emissions values of the allegedly squeaky-clean car. VW Chairman Martin Winterkorn had been breathing down his staff’s necks, too. The new diesel models needed to provide the company with a breakthrough in the important U.S. market. As such, anything that might possibly preserve diesel’s environmentally friendly façade had priority.

Which is where the monkeys came in. As of Oct. 2, all final preparations had been made for the test. The VW man moved assiduously around the red Beetle, which had been placed on a chassis dynamometer. The experiment would be led by Jacob McDonald, an athletic young biologist who had quickly risen in his career at the Lovelace Respiratory Research Institute (LRRI). McDonald found it strange that an engineer from Volkswagen would be present for the test. “It’s the first time that I’ve experienced that,” he would later say. And what he really couldn’t grasp was why the VW people wanted to transmit the entire test data in real-time to their research center in California. Engineer Liang had even brought along a transmission device especially for the task.

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YouTube has the lowest common denominator down to a T. So let kids see videos of kids beating up kids. They’re sure to keep watching.

How YouTube’s Algorithm Distorts Truth (G.)

There are 1.5 billion YouTube users in the world, which is more than the number of households that own televisions. What they watch is shaped by this algorithm, which skims and ranks billions of videos to identify 20 “up next” clips that are both relevant to a previous video and most likely, statistically speaking, to keep a person hooked on their screen. Company insiders tell me the algorithm is the single most important engine of YouTube’s growth. In one of the few public explanations of how the formula works – an academic paper that sketches the algorithm’s deep neural networks, crunching a vast pool of data about videos and the people who watch them – YouTube engineers describe it as one of the “largest scale and most sophisticated industrial recommendation systems in existence”.

Lately, it has also become one of the most controversial. The algorithm has been found to be promoting conspiracy theories about the Las Vegas mass shooting and incentivising, through recommendations, a thriving subculture that targets children with disturbing content such as cartoons in which the British children’s character Peppa Pig eats her father or drinks bleach. Lewd and violent videos have been algorithmically served up to toddlers watching YouTube Kids, a dedicated app for children. One YouTube creator who was banned from making advertising revenues from his strange videos – which featured his children receiving flu shots, removing earwax, and crying over dead pets – told a reporter he had only been responding to the demands of Google’s algorithm. “That’s what got us out there and popular,” he said. “We learned to fuel it and do whatever it took to please the algorithm.”

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How to make rape, murder and pillage more efficiently. And what does Amnesty say? ‘We’re not against it’.

Blockchain To Track Congo’s Cobalt From Mine To Mobile (R.)

Blockchain is to be used for the first time to try to track cobalt’s journey from artisanal mines in Democratic Republic of Congo through to products used in smartphones and electric cars. Sources close to a pilot scheme expected to be launched this year say the aim is eventually to give manufacturers a way of ensuring the cobalt in lithium-ion batteries for products such as iPhones and Teslas has not been mined by children. Tracking cobalt presents many challenges as scores of informal mine sites would have to be monitored, all players in the supply chain would need to buy into the scheme, and accurate, electronic data would need to be transmitted from remote areas – all in a vast country plagued by lawlessness.

But companies are under growing pressure from consumers and investors to show the cobalt they use has come through supply chains free of rights abuses, just as they have for minerals used in electronics such as tantalum, tin, tungsten and gold. Businesses in China, the main destination for Congolese cobalt from artisanal mines, have set up a Responsible Cobalt Initiative, which has been joined by tech giants such as Apple and Samsung, to address child labor. The problem they face is that there are few sure-fire ways of tracing cobalt from the informal mines that produce up to a fifth of the cobalt from Congo, the world’s biggest producer. “The demand to make cobalt more sustainable is going to continue growing, meaning there is a will to find a solution and blockchain will be part of that,” said a source with the project.

[..] Sheila Warren, head of blockchain policy at the World Economic Forum, said it was an open question how well it could work in Congo given the prevalence of conflict, lawlessness and an opaque legal system. “We are prototyping, iterating, testing, scaling,” said Warren, who is working with experts to see how blockchain can improve mineral supply chains. “The technology is not the hard part.” Amnesty International, which detailed the extent of child labor in cobalt mining in Congo in a 2016 report, said it was looking at blockchain, especially with a view to tracing payments to middlemen. “You have to be wary of technological solutions to problems that are also political and economic, but blockchain may help. We’re not against it,” said Amnesty researcher Mark Dummett.

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It is our governments who are behind this. And our media who don’t tell us about that. How anyone can protest when the Congo is labeled a shithole is beyond me. That takes a very large object up one’s behind.

Congo Gripped By Fear As Thousands Flee ‘Bone-Chilling’ Violence (G.)

The UN refugee agency has become the latest aid organisation to voice its alarm over rising violence in the east of the Democratic Republic of the Congo that has forced thousands of people to flee their homes. Amid a worsening humanitarian crisis, almost 7,000 people have crossed to neighbouring Burundi and 1,200 into Tanzania in the past week, according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. “Refugees we have spoken to say they fled forced recruitment, direct violence and other abuses by armed groups. Others say they fled in anticipation of military operations and out of fear,” said spokesperson Babar Baloch. Earlier this week, the World Food Programme and the Food and Agriculture Organisation described “alarming food insecurity” in the country, sparked by an extension of conflict into areas previously considered stable, such as the provinces of Kasai and Tanganyika.

Last month, Jean-Philippe Chauzy, DRC’s chief of mission for the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), said the humanitarian crisis in DRC was at “breaking point” amid a massive escalation of inter-ethnic conflict and widespread insecurity. The number of people coping with extreme hunger has risen by 2 million over the past six months, reaching 7.7 million – about 10% of the population. More than 4 million children under the age of five are at risk of acute malnutrition, said the agencies. “The humanitarian situation in the DRC is at breaking point, as is our capacity to respond to extremely limited funding,” said Chauzy. “The stories that Congolese who have been forced from their homes are telling are bone-chilling. They have been through so much already – torture, rape and murder of their loved ones. We cannot stand idly by as they suffer in silence.”

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Without WikiLeaks, we’d be stumbling even more in the dark. We don’t do nearly enough to protect them. We let whoever claim that Assange is some Russian agent, and we owe him a lot more respect than that.

WikiLeaks Has Published Leaks On Trump Admin And Russia, Seeking More (CJ)

Democrats believe that Assange is a Trump-supporting Kremlin asset while Trump supporters believe Assange is a based MAGA hat-wearing ally to their cause, the former because they were told to believe that by CNN and the Washington Post and the latter because they’ve seen him championed by Fox’s Sean Hannity and the elaborate 4chan hoax “QAnon”. Neither could be further from the truth. Today Assange responded to a call for transparency on Trump “tax returns, corporate records, campaign emails, and other documents relevant to Donald Trump’s Russia/WikiLeaks connections” from toxic neocon David Frum with the words “Go for it” and a link to WikiLeaks’ leak submission service. This is not the first time WikiLeaks has solicited documents on the Trump administration, and it won’t be the last.

Since long before the election and continuing through to the present, WikiLeaks has been harshly criticizing the president’s refusal to release his tax returns and publicly asking for leakers to submit them. They are on record trying to persuade Donald Trump Jr to do the same in a conversation that has been spuriously criticized but which when examined impartially is plainly just a leak publishing outlet soliciting a potential source. More importantly, WikiLeaks has already published Trump administration leaks. Its Vault 7 and Vault 8 leak drops exposing the CIA’s scary surveillance and hacking tools are comparable to NSA leaks from Edward Snowden against the Obama administration, and much like the Obama administration’s vindictive backlash against Snowden we are seeing similar retaliation from the Trump administration for the CIA leaks.

Trump’s CIA Director has pledged to shut down WikiLeaks as “a non-state hostile intelligence service often abetted by state actors like Russia,” and his Attorney General has statedthat Assange’s arrest is a priority, which Trump himself has said he would permit. Mike Pompeo’s increasingly vitriolic and threatening rhetoric about WikiLeaks is reminiscent of Joe Biden’s labeling Assange a “hi-tech terrorist” eight years ago. WikiLeaks in reality is not a friend of Republicans anymore than it’s a friend of Democrats, because WikiLeaks is and always will be first and foremost an enemy of corrupt power. The liberals who used to love Assange when he was dropping leaks about the Bush administration now hate him, and the conservatives who used to attack him as an enemy now celebrate him as a hero. This dynamic will necessarily switch again when more leaks drop and conservatives see clearly that Assange’s principles are not for sale.

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An epic tale for future historians. When we found how to feed ourselves, all of us, with good food, we decided not to do that. There’s some deeper meaning there, we don’t have the ability to do this right. We may be smart, but only superficially. And moreover, if we did get it right, we’d end up with 30-40 billion people here. So we poison ourselves.

‘Ultra-Processed’ Products Now Half Of All UK Family Food Purchases (G.)

Half of all the food bought by families in the UK is now “ultra-processed”, made in a factory with industrial ingredients and additives invented by food technologists and bearing little resemblance to the fruit, vegetables, meat or fish used to cook a fresh meal at home. Research by global nutrition experts reveals the scale of our food evolution, from farm-fresh to factory-manufactured. “Real food” has been replaced by salty snacks and sugary cereals, industrially-made bread and desserts, ready-meals and reconstituted meats alongside sweetened soft drinks. The study of 19 European countries is published this month in a special issue of the journal Public Health Nutrition. It shows that UK families buy more ultra-processed food than any others in Europe, amounting to 50.7% of the diet.

Germany comes second, on 46.2% and then Ireland on 45.9%. While the figures are not directly comparable, extracted from national surveys carried out differently and from different years, the trend is clear. The UK data they analysed came from the Living Costs and Food Survey 2008, the latest available. They categorised foods into four groups. More than a quarter of food (28.6%) was unprocessed or minimally so, 10.4% was processed cooking ingredients such as vegetable oil and 10.2% was ordinarily processed, such as cheese or cured meat. Ultra-processed food amounts to more than all the other groups combined.

Professor Carlos Monteiro from the University of Sao Paulo in Brazil, who led the research team, told the Guardian of his deep concern about the links between ultra-processed food with obesity and poor health. Ultra-processed foods may look attractive and are designed with sweet or salty tastes that make us want more. But there is nothing nutritious about them, Monteiro said. “Take breakfast cereals. If you take Froot Loops, for instance, more than 50% is sugar,” he told the Guardian. “[But] there is no fruit … “Ultra-processed foods are essentially new creations of the food industry with very low cost ingredients in a very attractive product.”

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Jan 302018
 
 January 30, 2018  Posted by at 11:08 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  6 Responses »


Horacio Coppola Obelisco, Buenos Aires 1936

 

House Intel Votes To Make “Shocking” FISA Memo Public (ZH)
Trump Administration Holds Off On New Russia Sanctions (R.)
Measure What Is Measurable (John Hussman)
Global Bond Yields Spike as Inflation Fears Rise (Street)
US Mortgage Rates Jump To The Highest Point In 4 Years (CNBC)
Stormy Weather (Jim Kunstler)
Leaked Brexit Report Shows Damage To UK Growth (G.)
Janet Yellen Sets Interest Rates One Last Time. How Will History Rate Her? (G.)
On The Death of Robert Parry (CJ)
Refugee Relocations From Italy And Greece Drawing To A Close (DW)

 

 

I like the suggestion that Trump can read the memo out loiud tonoght in SOTU. Though it’s been discussed so much already, it can only disappoint probably.

House Intel Votes To Make “Shocking” FISA Memo Public (ZH)

In a highly anticipated decision, on Monday evening the House Intelligence Committee voted to make public the memo alleging what some Republicans say are “shocking” surveillance abuses at the Department of Justice regarding the Trump presidential campaign. In immediate response to the vote, the Committee’s top democrat Adam Schiff said that “we’ve crossed a deeply regrettable line”, adding that the “committee voted to put the president’s interest above the interest of the country.” The decision [ends] weeks of speculation over whether the memo, which was drafted by staff for committee chairman Devin Nunes (R- Calif) would be made public. At the same time, it intensifies the dispute over what Democrats say is an all-out assault by Republicans to undermine special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election.

Now the fate of the 4-page FISA memo is in the hands of Donald Trump: as we discussed earlier, the document will not be immediately released as under the House rule Republicans used to override the classification of the four-page memo, President Trump now has five days to review and reject its publication. But, as per Bloomberg’s reporting earlier, the White House has signaled support for the document’s release and is widely expected to defy the DOJ in allowing the publication to go forward. The DOJ has opposed the release of the document, reportedly infuriating President Trump. While Nunes has described the memo as “facts,” Democrats have slammed it as a collection of misleading talking points they are unable to correct without exposing the highly classified information underpinning the document.

As Bloomberg disclosed earlier on Monday, releasing the memo without allowing them to review it on those grounds, Assistant Attorney General Stephen Boyd wrote to Nunes, would be “extraordinarily reckless.” Of course, the reason for the DOJ – and the Democrats’ fury – is well-known: Republicans who have read the memo have hinted heavily that it contains information that could unravel the entire Mueller investigation, long described by the president as a “witch hunt.” In an amusing twist, now that transparency appears to be the watchword, the Republican controlled House Intel Committee also plans to release the transcript of the business meeting dealing with releasing the FISA memo.

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Russia has pledged to read the list ‘without letting emotion get in the way’.

Trump Administration Holds Off On New Russia Sanctions (R.)

The Trump administration said on Monday it would not immediately impose additional sanctions on Russia, despite a new law designed to punish Moscow’s alleged meddling in the 2016 U.S. election, insisting the measure was already hitting Russian companies. “Today, we have informed Congress that this legislation and its implementation are deterring Russian defense sales,” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in a statement. “Since the enactment of the … legislation, we estimate that foreign governments have abandoned planned or announced purchases of several billion dollars in Russian defense acquisitions.” Seeking to press President Donald Trump to clamp down on Russia, the U.S. Congress voted nearly unanimously last year to pass a law setting sweeping new sanctions on Moscow.

Trump, who wanted warmer ties with Moscow and had opposed the legislation as it worked its way through Congress, signed it reluctantly in August, just six months into his presidency. Under the measure, the administration faced a deadline on Monday to impose sanctions on anyone determined to conduct significant business with Russian defense and intelligence sectors, already sanctioned for their alleged role in the election. But citing long time frames associated with major defense deals, Nauert said it was better to wait to impose those sanctions. “From that perspective, if the law is working, sanctions on specific entities or individuals will not need to be imposed because the legislation is, in fact, serving as a deterrent,” she said in a statement.

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Next recession: Dow plunge by 2/3.

Measure What Is Measurable (John Hussman)

[..] it’s true that when we examine pre-crash extremes, like 2000 and 2007, we’ll typically find that actual returns over the preceding 12-year period were higher than the returns that one would have expected on the basis of valuations 12 years earlier. No surprise there. The only way to get to breathtaking valuations is to experience a period of surprisingly strong returns. Those breathtaking valuations are then followed by dismal consequences. Likewise, when we examine secular lows like 1974 and 1982, we’ll find that actual returns over the preceding 12-year period fell short of the returns one would have expected on the basis of valuations 12 years earlier.

The chart below offers a reminder of what this looks like, in data since the 1920’s. Look at the “errors” in 1988, 1995, and 2006. Count forward 12 years, and you’ll find the major valuation peaks of 2000, 2007 and today that were responsible for the overshoot of actual returns. The 2000 and 2007 instances were both followed by losses of 50% or more in the S&P 500. Look at the “errors” in 1937, 1962, 1966, and 1970. Count forward 12 years, and you’ll find the market lows of 1949, 1974, 1978 and 1982 that were responsible for the undershoot of actual returns. Those market lows turned out to be the best buying opportunities of the post-war era. When market cycles move to extreme overvaluation or undervaluation, they become an exercise in borrowing or lending returns to the future, and then surrendering or receiving them back over the remaining half of the cycle.

Put simply, in my view, stock prices are rising not because Wall Street has thoughtfully quantified the effect of taxes, interest rates, corporate profits, or anything else. Instead, Wall Street is mesmerized by the self-reinforcing outcomes of its own speculation, relying on verbal arguments, optimistic projections lacking grounds in observable data, and enthusiastic assertions about cause-effect relationships that are accepted without the need for any evidence at all (much less decades of it).

Back to Galileo. Measure what is measurable, and make measurable what is not so. When we do this, come to understand the current speculative extreme as the tension between two observations that are not actually contradictory – just uncomfortable. One is that stock prices are indeed three times the level at which they are likely to end the current market cycle. The other is that there is no pressure for valuations to normalize over shorter segments of the cycle, as long as risk-seeking speculative psychology remains intact.

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It’s starting to feel as if we passed an inflection point.

Global Bond Yields Spike as Inflation Fears Rise (Street)

Global government bond markets continued to sell-off Monday, taking U.S. Treasury yields to the highest level in four years amid renewed bets on faster inflation in the world’s biggest economy and hawkish comments on growth and inflation from central bank officials in Europe. The bond market moves have clipped early gains for stocks and raised the spectre of a correction in inflation assumptions as the global economy roars to life and oil and commodity prices continue to climb amid a surge in manufacturing activity. The selling was also accelerated, in part, by a Goldman Sachs research note which suggested that Wednesday’s meeting of the U.S. Federal Reserve, the last under the leadership of outgoing chairwoman Janet Yellen, could plant the early seeds for a March hike in benchmark borrowing costs.

“We expect the FOMC to issue a generally upbeat post-meeting statement that includes an upgrade to the balance of risks and a slightly hawkish rewording of the inflation assessment,” the note read, adding that public remarks since the December meeting “bolster the case for an upgrade, and by our count, at least half of the Committee has recently referenced upside risks to growth.” Benchmark 10-year U.S. Treasury yields were marked at 2.72% in early Monday trading, the highest since early 2014, while 2-year note yields were seen at 2.15%, the highest since 2008. Those gains followed Friday closing levels that showed the widest yield gap between so-called TIPS, or Treasury Inflation Protected Securities, and benchmark 10-year notes since Sept. 2014.

In Europe, five-year German bunds yields traded in positive territory for the first time since 2015 amid a solid assessment of the region’s growth prospects last week from ECB President Mario Draghi and comments over the weekend from Dutch central bank governor Klaas Knot that he saw “no reason whatsoever” to continue the Bank’s €2.55 trillion ($3.16 trillion) quantitative easing program beyond its September deadline. Both U.S. and European investors are bracing for faster inflation in the months ahead as global commodity prices – particularly crude oil – continue to rise. Brent crude futures for March delivery, the benchmark for prices around the world, were marked at $69.87 Monday, down from their Friday close of $70.52 but still some 28% higher from the same period last year, suggesting a big upside import into headline inflation readings over the first half of this year.

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Yields go up, then so do mortgage rates.

US Mortgage Rates Jump To The Highest Point In 4 Years (CNBC)

A huge sell-off in the bond market is about to make buying a home more expensive. Mortgage rates, which loosely follow the yield on the 10-year Treasury, have been rising for the past few weeks, but are seeing their biggest move higher Monday. “Bottom line, rate sheets are going to be ugly this morning,” wrote Matthew Graham, chief operating officer of Mortgage News Daily. “Some lenders will be at 4.5% on their best-case-scenario 30-year fixed quotes.” That is the highest rate since 2014. The average rate on the popular 30-year fixed started the year right around 4% but then began to climb on positive news in the U.S. economy, solid company earnings reports and a shift in foreign central bank policies which appear to now be following the Federal Reserve’s tightening of monetary policy.

The rate was at 4.28% by the end of last week. “Apart from central banks, there’s a ton of bond market supply coming down the pike due to infrastructure and tax bill spending,” Graham said. That new supply will send yields and, consequently, mortgage rates higher. While mortgage rates are still historically low, they were even lower in the years following the financial crisis. That not only helped juice the sharp increase in home prices, but it has also given borrowers a new sense of normal. Both will hurt affordability this spring on several fronts. “Today is one more reason for Realtors and buyers to move up their spring schedule,” said Chris Kopec, a mortgage loan consultant at Chicago-based Lakeside Bank.

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Why investigate Trump, but not Hillary et al?

Stormy Weather (Jim Kunstler)

It’s hard not to be impressed by the evidence in the public record that the FBI misbehaved pretty badly around the various election year events of 2016. And who, besides Rachel Maddow, Anderson Cooper, and Dean Baquet of The New York Times, can pretend to be impressed by the so far complete lack of evidence of Russian “meddling” to defeat Hillary Clinton? I must repeat: so far. This story has been playing for a year and a half now, and as the days go by, it seems more and more unlikely that Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller is sitting on any conclusive evidence. During this time, everything and anything has already leaked out of the FBI and its parent agency the Department of Justice, including embarrassing hard evidence of the FBI’s own procedural debauchery, and it’s hard to believe that Mr. Mueller’s office is anymore air-tight than the rest of the joint.

If an attorney from Mars came to Earth and followed the evidence already made public, he would probably suspect that the FBI and DOJ colluded with the Clinton Campaign and the Democratic Party to derail the Trump campaign train, and then engineer an “insurance policy” train wreck of his position in office. Also, in the process, to nullify any potential legal action against Clinton, including the matter of her email server, her actions with the DNC to subvert the Sanders primary campaign, the Steele dossier being used to activate a FISA warrant for surveillance of the Trump campaign, the arrant, long-running grift machine of the Clinton Foundation (in particular, the $150 million from Russian sources following the 2013 Uranium One deal, when she was Secretary of State), and the shady activities of Barack Obama’s inner circle around the post-election transition. There is obviously more there there than in the Resistance’s Russia folder.

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What Britain can quarrel about this week.

Leaked Brexit Report Shows Damage To UK Growth (G.)

Brexit would leave the UK worse off under three possible scenarios: a comprehensive free trade deal, single market access and no deal at all, according to a leaked government analysis of the economic impact of leaving the EU. The document was meant to be shown confidentially to cabinet ministers this week but was leaked in an embarrassing development for Theresa May and David Davis, the Brexit secretary. It said national income would be 8% lower under a no deal scenario, around 5% lower with a free trade agreement with the EU and about 2% lower with a soft Brexit option of single market membership over a 15-year period. The government would not comment on leaked documents but sources stressed the analysis did not cover May’s preferred option of a bespoke deal amounting to a “deep and special partnership” with the EU.

The document suggested that chemicals, clothing, manufacturing, food and drink, and cars and retail would be the hardest hit and every UK region would also be affected negatively in all the modelled scenarios, with the north-east, the West Midlands and Northern Ireland facing the biggest falls in economic performance. It comes after Davis refused to release impact assessments covering 58 sectors of the economy when requested to by parliament, claiming they did not in fact exist. Remain supporters said the report, seen by BuzzFeed News, was concerning but in line with what they had feared.

[..] Eloise Todd, the chief executive of anti-Brexit organisation Best for Britain, added: “According to the government’s secret analysis, even the softest Brexit scenario will mean a 2% hit to growth. “Almost every community, region and sector of the economy included in the analysis would be negatively impacted. The case for or against Brexit should be about more than balance sheets, but it’s painfully clear that the numbers are a gloomy part of the story. And behind these numbers are thousands of jobs, businesses and homes that are at risk. “The government are calling this document embarrassing but it’s more than that. It is a colossal act of economic self harm, written down clearly, in black and white. We are reading about an economy facing the abyss.”

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After Janet, the flood.

Janet Yellen Sets Interest Rates One Last Time. How Will History Rate Her? (G.)

Janet Yellen, the Federal Reserve chair, begins her final rate-setting meeting at the helm of the US central bank on Tuesday, before she is replaced by Donald Trump’s chosen successor, Jerome Powell. The first woman to lead the Fed arrived in February 2014 at a time when the money-printing machine of quantitative easing was whirring at full-tilt under her predecessor, Ben Bernanke. QE, which involved the Fed buying bonds from financial institutions, pumped billions of dollars into the US economy to keep it afloat after the financial crisis. Yellen leaves next month with a legacy as the Fed chair who began the long process of turning off the QE machine, and for raising interest rates for the first time in seven years in 2015.

Powell will have a tough act to follow, with the stock market currently sitting at a record high and as economic growth continues to strengthen and unemployment stands at the lowest level since 2000. No increase in interest rates is expected this month, although further hikes are forecast for later this year. James Knightley, senior economist at ING Bank, said: “She has followed up [Bernanke] with strong leadership and solid decision making that led to the robust economic performance we see today. Given all these successes, Jay Powell has been set a very tough bar to match.”

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Emotional by Caitlin Johnstone. We should have a piece that lists his topics through the years. And someone should pick up his legacy.

On The Death of Robert Parry (CJ)

The legendary journalistic titan Robert Parry has died, and I still haven’t quite figured out how to live with that. I did not know Parry and never had any kind of interaction with him, but I can’t stop crying. This is an immense loss and it feels deeply personal, just as one of the countless individuals his work has profoundly impacted. I’ve often recommended Parry’s outlet Consortiumnews as the overall best source of anti-war, anti-establishment information in the English-speaking world, and I cite its content constantly in my own work. This just sucks, and I’m a mess, and this might just be me getting sloppy and emotional for a few paragraphs, but this is all I can really be right now.

In a beautiful tribute to his father, Nat Parry describes a man who was driven not by self-interest, nor even ultimately by any ideology or conceptual values system, but by a deeply held commitment to humanity born out of concern for the future of our species. Parry’s journalistic integrity and ferocious dedication to the truth at all costs appear to have been a byproduct of that fundamental desire for humanity to survive and thrive, and an inability to be comfortable with our horrifying flirtation with extinction. “But besides this deeply held commitment to independent journalism, it should also be recalled that, ultimately, Bob was motivated by a concern over the future of life on Earth,” writes the younger Parry. “As someone who grew up at the height of the Cold War, he understood the dangers of allowing tensions and hysteria to spiral out of control, especially in a world such as ours with enough nuclear weapons to wipe out all life on the planet many times over.”

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Brussels, Paris and Berlin only care when it suits their careers.

Refugee Relocations From Italy And Greece Drawing To A Close (DW)

Germany’s Interior Ministry said on Monday that it will only resettle a small number of migrants from Italy and Greece in the coming weeks, as the EU’s migrant relocation program draws to a close. An Interior Ministry spokesperson told DW that far fewer people had fulfilled the necessary criteria for relocation than first expected. “There are now virtually no more asylum seekers in Greece who could be considered for resettlement,” according to the Ministry. To qualify, applicants had to be from a country where the chances of asylum are at least 75%. Last month, some 500 migrants were still waiting to be relocated from Italy to Germany, while in Greece the number less than 40. “The relocation scheme ended in September 2017, meaning all applicants arriving after that date will no longer be eligible for resettlement,” Annegret Korff, a speaker for the Interior Ministry, said.

“Germany largely completed all outstanding relocations by the end of 2017. In the coming weeks, Germany will only carry out the odd resettlement case that was left outstanding from last year.” The program to relocate migrants landing in Greece and Italy was launched by the European Union in the wake of the 2015 migrant crisis. Initially, EU member states agree to relocate some 160,000 refugees between them from the bloc’s two main points of entry by September 2017. The number was revised to just under 100,000 after officials found that fewer people were eligible under the scheme that first expected. Although the temporary progam has since passed its deadline, the final few migrants that qualify for resettlement are still awaiting asylum.

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Jan 192018
 


Vincent van Gogh Red Vineyards at Arles 1888

 

The Most Sustainable Stock Market Bubble Ever (MW)
Global Debt Growing Three Times Faster than Global Wealth (Schiff)
US House Passes Stopgap Funding Bill and Sends It to Senate (BBG)
Conservatives Bring Russia Probe Demand to Shutdown Talks (BBG)
FISA Memo Set To Rock DC, “End Mueller Investigation” (ZH)
Hackers Have Walked Off With About 14% of Big Digital Currencies (BBG)
Blockchain Eyed for Mortgage Bundling That Caused 2008 Crisis (BBG)
SEC Says Bitcoin Funds Raise ‘Investor Protection Issues’ (R.)
Oliver Stone’s “Ukraine On Fire” Documentary Released In The West (Quinn)
Blood Test Could Use DNA To Spot Early-Stage Cancers (G.)
Adolescence Now Lasts From 10 to 24 (BBC)
Varoufakis Reveals Outburst Against ‘Stupid’ Tsipras (GR)
Greece Compliance Report Due Friday Ahead of Monday’s Eurogroup (R.)
UK and France Must Stop ‘Systematic Violation’ Of Calais Refugees (Ind.)
HRW Blames Greek Authorities For Abysmal Conditions At Hotspots (K.)

 

 

We’re having to find new semantics. Once sustainable bubbles become acceptable, anything goes…

The Most Sustainable Stock Market Bubble Ever (MW)

Is this the most sustainable stock market bubble ever? It’s rare to find the words “sustainable” and “bubble” in the same sentence, but the stock market rally from November 2016 until now has been relentless enough to at least discuss the notion of a “sustainable bubble.” In February 2016, the S&P 500 recorded three consecutive daily gains of more than 1.5%. The Profit Radar Report highlighted that this happened only eight other times. A year later, the S&P 500 was up 19.16%. The February 2016 kickoff rally continued to build momentum. One way to quantify momentum was shown in the Nov. 19, 2017, Profit Radar Report: “The S&P 500 was higher 8 of the first 9 months of 2017. This has only happened 8 other times (1936, 1950, 1954, 1958, 1964, 1995, 1996, 2006). 2, 3, 6, and 12 months later, the S&P was higher every time but one (0.7% loss 2 month later in 1964).

Such strong momentum readings (and they are seen across all time frames) are extremely rare. As mentioned in December 2016 and March 2017, stocks rarely top out at peak momentum. We have to go back to 1995/1996 to find similarly strong and persistent upside momentum. The stock market infrequently finds the delicate and potent balance between being hot, but not too hot. Tempered relentlessness best describes this market. How relentless? The S&P 500 has not closed more than 1.5% below its all-time high since Aug. 21, 2017. The only other time the S&P 500 has been similarly glued to its all-time high was in 1965. The S&P 500 has not dropped more than 5% below its all-time high since June 27, 2016, and has been above its 200-day simple moving average (SMA) since June 28, 2016.

How tempered? The S&P 500 has traded above its 200-day SMA for 391 days, but, until Jan. 5, also never traded more than 10% above its 200-day SMA. This “sweet spot” range is illustrated by the chart below. For the first time ever, the S&P 500 broke such a “controlled range-bound rally” streak (there’ve been two similar rallies in the 1960s and 1990s) by surging higher instead of falling lower.

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Once debt is subtracted, there’s very little wealth growth left. It’s a mirage.

Global Debt Growing Three Times Faster than Global Wealth (Schiff)

Global wealth increased to a new record of $280 trillion in 2017, according to Credit Suisse Global Wealth Report 2017. That seems like pretty good news until you consider global debt is increasing nearly three times as fast. According to the Wealth Report, total global wealth rose at a rate of 6.4%, the fastest pace since 2012 and reached $280 trillion, a gain of $16.7 trillion. This reflected widespread gains in equity markets matched by similar rises in non-financial assets, which moved above the pre-crisis year 2007’s level for the first time this year. Wealth growth also outpaced population growth, so that global mean wealth per adult grew by 4.9% and reached a new record high of $56,540 per adult.”

Increasing global wealth is one of the trends the World Gold Council identifies as a positive for the gold market in the next year. That’s all well and good. But we have to also look at the other side of the equation. The Institute of International Finance recently released its latest global debt analysis. It reported that global debt rose to a record $233 trillion at the end of Q3 2017. That is split up between $63 trillion in government debt, $58 trillion in financial sector corporate debt, $68 trillion in non-financial sector corporate debt, and $44 trillion in household indebtedness. In just nine months, there was an increase of $16 trillion in worldwide debt.

You really can’t talk about wealth without talking about debt. SRSrocco took a look at both factors in the equation. Even if global wealth surged in 2017, so did world debt. According to the data, global wealth increased by $16.7 trillion in 2017 while global debt expanded $16 trillion… nearly one to one. However, this is only part of the story. If we look at the increase in total world debt and total global wealth over the past 20 years, we can see a troubling sign, indeed: Since 1997, total global debt increased from $50 trillion to $233 trillion compared to the rise in global wealth from $120 trillion to $280 trillion. When you do the math, you find global debt has increased 366% vs. 133% increase in global wealth since 1997. That means net wealth was $70 trillion in 1997 versus $47 trillion in 2017.

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Shaky. A government shutdown could well be imminent.

US House Passes Stopgap Funding Bill and Sends It to Senate (BBG)

The House passed a spending bill Thursday to avoid a U.S. government shutdown, but Senate Democrats say they have the votes to block the measure in a bid to force Republicans and President Donald Trump to include protection for young immigrants. The 230-197 vote came just over a day before current funding is set to run out at midnight Friday. The bill would keep the government open through Feb. 16 while all sides negotiate on longer-term funding for defense and domestic programs. The Senate took an initial vote to advance the bill late Thursday, but was headed toward an additional procedural step requiring 60 votes, which Democrats say they will be able to block. The Senate adjourned until Friday morning without taking further action.

Shortly before the House vote, Trump wrote on Twitter: “House of Representatives needs to pass Government Funding Bill tonight. So important for our country – our Military needs it!” In a show of strength, House Republicans had enough support within their own ranks to pass the measure without help from Democrats. Some members of the conservative House Freedom Caucus withheld their support through much of the day Thursday, but reached a last-minute agreement with Speaker Paul Ryan to hold votes later on a conservative immigration bill and a measure to boost defense spending without increasing non-defense spending.

Still, Senate Democrats said they have the votes to block the measure in their chamber. At least 10 of the 18 Democrats who voted for a temporary funding measure in December have publicly announced their opposition, and a Democratic aide said there won’t be enough party members who support the House bill. Republicans would need at least a dozen Democratic votes to get the bill, H.R. 195, through the Senate after at least three of the 51 Republicans in the chamber said they would vote against it.

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The gloves are coming off.

Conservatives Bring Russia Probe Demand to Shutdown Talks (BBG)

House conservatives negotiating with GOP leaders over how to avert a government shutdown brought a fresh demand to the last-minute talks: release classified information they say raises questions about the origins of the FBI’s probe into President Donald Trump’s possible connections to Russia. A Republican lawmaker said they tried to pressure Speaker Paul Ryan to allow a vote on making public a document they say shows Justice Department and FBI misconduct and political bias in the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential campaign and whether anyone close to Trump colluded in it. The facts contained in the memo from Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee are “jaw-dropping and demand full transparency,” said Matt Gaetz, a Florida Republican.

The top Democrat on the Intelligence Committee, Adam Schiff of California, criticized the move. He dismissed the committee document as “talking points” drafted by Republican staffers that he said were “profoundly misleading” and “rife” with inaccuracies. The odd juxtaposition of issues – tying the Russia inquiry to the debate over a stopgap spending bill – came as much of the government faced a threatened shutdown on Friday at midnight. Gaetz said the effort was led by Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows of North Carolina and caucus co-founder Jim Jordan of Ohio. Jordan confirmed that some conservatives had “highlighted” in continuing resolution talks that it was “extremely important” that the memo go public. He said it was not something they were requiring of the Republican leadership in return for votes.

“But it was something we definitely talked about – that needs to happen,” Jordan added. Meadows earlier referred to “subplots” of promises the Freedom Caucus was able to extract from the leadership before he agreed to support the continuing resolution. “Mr Meadows and Mr. Jordan and many conservatives want to include in this negotiation a requirement that the House make public intelligence documents that highlight the unfair treatment of the president” by the FBI and the Justice Department, Gaetz said. Gaetz said he couldn’t describe the contents of the entire memo put together by the House Intelligence Committee “because to do so would reveal classified information, in the absence of a vote to do so,” he said. “Just 218 votes and the American people can read this intelligence information that goes to the fundamentals of our democracy.”

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So let’s see it.

FISA Memo Set To Rock DC, “End Mueller Investigation” (ZH)

All hell is breaking loose in Washington D.C. tonight after a four-page memo detailing extensive FISA court abuse was made available to the entire House of Representatives Thursday. The contents of the memo are so explosive, says Journalist Sara Carter, that it could lead to the removal of senior officials in the FBI and the Department of Justice and the end of Robert Mueller’s special counsel investigation. “These sources say the report is “explosive,” stating they would not be surprised if it leads to the end of Robert Mueller’s Special Counsel investigation into President Trump and his associates.” -Sara Carter. A source close to the matter tells Fox News that “the memo details the Intelligence Committee’s oversight work for the FBI and Justice, including the controversy over unmasking and FISA surveillance.”

An educated guess by anyone who’s been paying attention for the last year leads to the obvious conclusion that the report reveals extensive abuse of power and highly illegal collusion between the Obama administration, the FBI, the DOJ and the Clinton Campaign against Donald Trump and his team during and after the 2016 presidential election. Lawmakers who have seen the memo are calling for its immediate release, while the phrases “explosive,” “shocking,” “troubling,” and “alarming” have all been used in all sincerity. One congressman even likened the report’s details to KGB activity in Russia. “It is so alarming the American people have to see this,” Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan told Fox News. “It’s troubling. It is shocking,” North Carolina Rep. Mark Meadows said. “Part of me wishes that I didn’t read it because I don’t want to believe that those kinds of things could be happening in this country that I call home and love so much.”

“Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., offered the motion on Thursday to make the Republican majority-authored report available to the members. “The document shows a troubling course of conduct and we need to make the document available, so the public can see it,” said a senior government official, who spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the document. “Once the public sees it, we can hold the people involved accountable in a number of ways.” The government official said that after reading the document “some of these people should no longer be in the government.” -Sara Carter

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And there’s no guarantee this won’t continue.

Hackers Have Walked Off With About 14% of Big Digital Currencies (BBG)

Digital currencies and the software developed to track them have become attractive targets for cybercriminals while also creating a lucrative new market for computer-security firms. In less than a decade, hackers have stolen $1.2 billion worth of Bitcoin and rival currency Ether, according to Lex Sokolin at Autonomous Research. Given the currencies’ explosive surge at the end of 2017, the cost in today’s money is much higher. “It looks like crypto hacking is a $200 million annual revenue industry,” Sokolin said. Hackers have compromised more than 14% of the Bitcoin and Ether supply, he said. All told, hacks involving cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin have cost companies and governments $11.3 billion through lost potential tax revenue from coin sales and illegitimate transactions, according to Susan Eustis, CEO of WinterGreen Research.

The blockchain ecosystem – the decentralized “distributed ledgers” that track crypto transactions – is also vulnerable. Those losses could snowball as more companies and investors rush into the white-hot cryptocurrency market without weighing the dangers or taking steps to protect themselves. Blockchain records are shared, making them hard to alter, so some users see them as super-secure. But in many ways they are no safer than any other software, Matt Suiche, who runs the blockchain security company Comae Technologies, said. And since the market is immature, blockchains may even be more vulnerable than other software. There are thousands of them, each with its own bugs. Until the field is winnowed to a few favorites, as happened with web browsers, securing them all will be a challenge. “Each implementation is going to have its own problems,” Suiche said. “The more implementations, the harder it is to cover all of them.”

[..] In a Dec. 25 paper, researchers at the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers outlined ways hackers can spend the same Bitcoins twice, the very thing blockchains are meant to prevent. In a Balance Attack, for instance, hackers delay network communications between subgroups of miners, whose computers verify blockchain transactions, to allow for double spending. “We have no evidence that such attacks have already been performed on Bitcoin,” the IEEE researchers said. “However, we believe that some of the important characteristics of Bitcoin make these attacks practical and potentially highly disruptive.”

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Predictable. Securitizing hasn’t exactly benefitted Jill and John, has it?

Blockchain Eyed for Mortgage Bundling That Caused 2008 Crisis (BBG)

A group of big financial institutions wants to use the blockchain to help resurrect the packaging of home mortgages into securities, a business that almost destroyed the global banking system in 2008. Credit Suisse, U.S. Bancorp, Wells and Western Asset Management. said Thursday that they successfully tested the distributed ledger technology as a way to make it easier to track securitized home loans. Before the 2008 crisis, bundling home loans together and then selling those baskets to investors was a huge profit center for banks. But this was the primary cause of the meltdown after many borrowers couldn’t repay their debt and the value of the securitized loans crashed, causing trillions of dollars in losses.

The business then shrank dramatically. There were about $823 billion of securitized private-label residential mortgage bonds outstanding in early 2017, according to the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association, down from a peak of $2.7 trillion in 2007. “Structuring securities is complex, involving many different parties, manual processes, duplicated documents and data in different formats,” David Rutter, chief executive officer of blockchain startup R3, which is organizing the consortium, said in a statement Thursday. While the group is starting with residential mortgages that aren’t backed by the U.S. government, it plans to expand to other types of asset-backed securities. The next step is delivering a commercially viable product, R3 said.

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Any regulation will need to concern all crypto, not just bitcoin. Does the SEC have the knowledge to do that?

SEC Says Bitcoin Funds Raise ‘Investor Protection Issues’ (R.)

The U.S. securities regulator on Thursday raised alarm about the safety of bitcoin-themed investments, telling the fund industry they want answers to their concerns before endorsing more than a dozen proposed products based on cryptocurrencies. A top division chief at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission detailed the agency’s concerns about the wild-trading investment in a letter to two trade groups representing fund managers who unleashed a range of proposals for funds holding bitcoin or related assets. The SEC’s division of investment management demanded answers to at least 31 detailed questions about how mutual funds or exchange-traded funds based on bitcoin would store, safeguard, and price that asset. They also asked whether investors can understand the risks and how to address concerns that bitcoin markets could be manipulated.

“There are a number of significant investor protection issues that need to be examined before sponsors begin offering these funds to investors,” said the letter signed by Dalia Blass, the SEC’s director of investment management. Bitcoin’s 1,500% surge last year stoked investor demand for any product with exposure to the red-hot asset. A host of companies are jostling to launch exchange-traded funds which would open up the cryptocurrency to a broad retail market. The SEC in March denied a request to list an ETF from investors Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss, owners of the Gemini bitcoin exchange. The Winklevoss fund is seeking to invest in bitcoin directly. Other fund firms staked their hopes on recently launched U.S.-listed bitcoin futures contracts, which promised a more stable base for ETFs than the largely unregulated virtual currency spot market. Many of those proposals were withdrawn last week at the request of the SEC.

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Haven’t watched it yet.

Oliver Stone’s “Ukraine On Fire” Documentary Released In The West (Quinn)

Oliver Stone’s seminal documentary Ukraine on Fire has finally been made available to watch in the West. Investigative journalist Robert Parry reveals how US-funded political NGOs and media companies have emerged since the 1980s, replacing the CIA in promoting America’s geopolitical agenda abroad. As Russia-Insider details, Ukraine on Fire provides a historical perspective for the deep divisions in the region which led to the 2004 Orange Revolution, the 2014 uprisings, and the violent overthrow of democratically-elected Yanukovych. Covered by Western media as a ‘popular revolution’, it was in fact a coup d’état scripted and staged by ultra-nationalist groups and the US State Department.

Executive producer Oliver Stone gained unprecedented access to the inside story through his on-camera interviews with former President Viktor Yanukovych and Minister of Internal Affairs Vitaliy Zakharchenko, who explain how the US Ambassador and factions in Washington actively plotted for regime change. And, in his first meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Stone solicits Putin’s take on the significance of Crimea, NATO and the US’s history of interference in elections and regime change in the region. The film was originally released in 2016, but unsurprisingly, Stone came up against problems distributing the film in the US and western countries. A Russian-dubbed version was available almost immediately and was aired on TV in Russia, but people in the ‘free world’ were left without access to the full film.

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Seems quite obvious. If you can train dogs to discover cancer early on, why not DNA?

Blood Test Could Use DNA To Spot Early-Stage Cancers (G.)

Scientists have made a major advance towards developing a blood test for cancer that could identify tumours long before a person becomes aware of symptoms. The new test, which is sensitive to both mutated DNA that floats freely in the blood and cancer-related proteins, gave a positive result approximately 70% of the time across eight of the most common cancers when tested in more than 1,000 patients. In the future, such a test could be used in routine screening programmes to significantly increase the proportion of patients who get treatment early, at a time before cancer would typically show up on conventional scans. “The use of a combination of selected biomarkers for early detection has the potential to change the way we screen for cancer, and it is based on the same rationale for using combinations of drugs to treat cancers,” said Nickolas Papadopoulos, professor of oncology at Johns Hopkins University and senior author on the paper.

The test could also identify the form of cancer that a patient had, a goal that previous cancer blood tests have failed to achieve. It works by detecting free-floating mutated DNA, released into the bloodstream by dying cancer cells. The test screened for the presence of errors in 16 genes that are frequently mutated in different kinds of cancer. The blood of patients was also tested for eight known protein biomarkers which are seen to differing degrees depending on where in the body a tumour is located. In blood samples from 1,005 patients, the test detected between 33% and 98% of cases of disease. Ovarian cancer was the easiest to detect, followed by liver, stomach, pancreas, oesophageal, colorectal, lung and breast cancers. For the five cancers that currently have no screening tests – ovarian, liver, stomach, pancreatic and oesophageal cancers – sensitivity ranged from 69% to 98%.

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They’re all still living with mom and dad anyway.

Adolescence Now Lasts From 10 to 24 (BBC)

Adolescence now lasts from the ages of 10 to 24, although it used to be thought to end at 19, scientists say. Young people continuing their education for longer, as well as delayed marriage and parenthood, has pushed back popular perceptions of when adulthood begins. And changing the definition is vital to ensure laws and government policy stay appropriate, they say in the Lancet Child & Adolescent Health journal. But another expert warns doing so risks “further infantilising young people”. Puberty is considered to start when the part of the brain known as the hypothalamus starts releasing a hormone that activates the body’s pituitary and gonadal glands. This used to happen around the age of 14 but has dropped with improved health and nutrition in much of the developed world to around the age of 10.

As a consequence, in industrialised countries such as the UK the average age for a girl’s first menstruation has dropped by four years in the past 150 years. Half of all females now have their period by 12 or 13 years of age. There are also biological arguments for why the definition of adolescence should be extended, including that the body continues to develop. For example, the brain continues to mature beyond the age of 20, working faster and more efficiently. And many people’s wisdom teeth don’t come through until the age of 25. Young people are also getting married and having children later. According to the Office of National Statistics, the average age for a man to enter their first marriage in 2013 was 32.5 years and 30.6 years for women across England and Wales. This represented an increase of almost eight years since 1973.

Lead author Prof Susan Sawyer, director of the centre for adolescent health at the Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne, writes: “Although many adult legal privileges start at age 18 years, the adoption of adult roles and responsibilities generally occurs later.” She says delayed partnering, parenting and economic independence means the “semi-dependency” that characterises adolescence has expanded.

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The 3.5% surplus is the opposite of what’s good for Greece; there should be a 3.5% deficit, with all 7% of it invested in the economy.

Varoufakis Reveals Outburst Against ‘Stupid’ Tsipras (GR)

Former Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis has revealed he accused Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras of being “totally stupid” in accepting a demand by Greece’s creditors for big primary surpluses. During an interview with Greece’s Parapolitika radio, Varoufakis said when he learned that Tsipras in 2015 accepted, without consulting him, a primary surplus target of 3.5% he confronted the premier: “I told him: ‘Are you totally stupid? What have they given you in return?’ And he replied: ‘Oh, maybe I was stupid. I will retract from the promise’.” Varoufakis said he actually used a stronger word than “stupid”.

In the same interview, the former finance minister repeated claims that Tsipras did not really want to win in the infamous July 2015 referendum on the bailout. Varoufakis said he remembered that everyone at the prime minister’s office that evening was sad. “I do not know when exactly Tsipras decided to capitulate,” he added. Referring to his successor, Euclid Tsakalotos, he said: “I can no longer recognize him.” “Euclid became a yes man on July 6 [2015] .. The case of Euclid hurts, because I was an eyewitness of his total transformation,” he added. Varoufakis also confirmed that he still has in his possession recordings of the Eurogroup meetings of the turbulent first half of 2015.

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And also, the 3.5% surplus is a perfect way to make Greece a debt slave forever.

Greece Compliance Report Due Friday Ahead of Monday’s Eurogroup (R.)

Eurozone finance ministers could decide on Monday, or soon afterward, to release the next tranche of bailout loans to Greece after the country pushed through a batch of laws to meet reform agreements with its creditors, a senior European Union official has said. Finance ministers from the 19 countries sharing the euro meet for monthly talks on Monday and a review of Greek reforms is one of the top items on the agenda. Last Monday, the Greek Parliament approved a bill for fiscal, energy and labor reforms requested by international lenders. This is likely to complete the third and penultimate review of Greek reforms, unlocking new loans. “We are extremely well on our way towards the completion of the third review,” the senior EU official said.

“There are a number of administrative measures to be taken still. As of yet we cannot say that all the preconditions [for disbursements] have been successfully completed simply because the time lines are as they are,” the official said. Lenders’ experts, who are now translating and checking the Greek laws, are to issue a report on their compliance with the bailout’s requirements on Friday. The new loans would be between 6 and 7 billion euros, disbursed to Greece in more than one tranche, the official said. Greece would use the money to redeem maturing debt, pay arrears and create a cash buffer for when it leaves its third bailout in August. “We can be confident that the disbursements will… start in February, probably in the second half,” the official said.

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It’s not about people, it’s about money and politics. Welcome to the real Europe.

UK and France Must Stop ‘Systematic Violation’ Of Calais Refugees (Ind.)

The UK and France must urgently put an end to the “systematic violation” of refugees in Calais, a group of charities has warned. In a letter shared exclusively with The Independent, eight aid organisations urged leaders Theresa May and Emmanuel Macron to uphold their commitment to human rights law, as conditions for the thousands living on the border become increasingly perilous. The group, which includes l’Auberge des Migrants, Help Refugees, Safe Passage and Utopia56, wrote to the leaders on the same day Ms May welcomed the French President to the UK-France Summit at the Royal Military Academy in Sandhurst. “We are writing to ask that any new agreement relating to the French-British border bear in mind the human rights of displaced people currently residing in Calais,” the letter states.

“We are deeply concerned that the human rights of refugees and displaced people in northern France are being systematically violated on French territory. We moreover lament the heightened risk of sexual violence, exploitation and trafficking to which children and youth in Calais are exposed, as well as the many avoidable deaths occurring at the border.” Ahead of the visit, the Prime Minister announced the UK will take more child refugees from Calais and spend £44.5m on additional security at the French port. Ms May and Mr Macron subsequently signed a deal on migrants called the Sandhurst Treaty, designed to ease the suffering of some of the thousands of people camped near the French port who currently wait six months to have their cases settled. However, No 10 was keen to play down suggestions that Ms May had agreed to accept more refugees, insisting it would simply speed up the process of settling claims.

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And Germany now blames the island mayors.

HRW Blames Greek Authorities For Abysmal Conditions At Hotspots (K.)

In its annual review for 2018, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said the failure of Greek authorities to properly identify vulnerable asylum seekers for transfer to the mainland has “impeded their access to proper care and services.” The watchdog group also said that policy formed under the deal between the European Union and Turkey to stem the flow of migrants to the continent has led to thousands being “trapped in Greece in overcrowded and abysmal conditions, while denying most access to adequate asylum procedures or refugee protection.” “The policies, conditions, uncertainty and the slow pace of decision-making contributed to deteriorating mental health for some asylum seekers and other migrants on the islands, while creating tensions that sometimes erupted into violence,” it said.

More than 50,000 refugees and migrants are stranded in Greece. Meanwhile, five eastern Aegean island mayors are calling for a meeting with the German ambassador in Athens after coming under fire from German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere, who said on Wednesday that they were to blame for the appalling living conditions of refugees and migrants trapped in the hotspots. De Maiziere accused the island mayors of not making use of the aid that is being offered in order to force the government to transfer them to the Greek mainland.

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