Oct 062018
 
 October 6, 2018  Posted by at 9:26 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  


M. C. Escher Day and Night 1938

 

Collins, Manchin Vote “Yes”, Ensuring Kavanaugh Confirmation (ZH)
US Unemployment Rate Falls To Lowest Level Since 1969 (G.)
Mueller Moves For Forfeiture Order To Seize Manafort Assets (Hill)
Storm Clouds on Robert Mueller’s Horizon (LaRouche)
May Secretly Woos Labour MP’s To Back Her Brexit Deal (G.)
Juncker: Brexit Deal Could Be Reached Within Weeks (Sky)
UK House Prices Fall Sharply In September (G.)
Fishtailing into the Future (Jim Kunstler)
Russia Announces Plan To Disentangle Its Economy From US Dollar (RT)
Banksy Artwork Shreds Itself After £1m Sale At Sotheby’s (BBC)

 

 

This ain’t over.

Collins, Manchin Vote “Yes”, Ensuring Kavanaugh Confirmation (ZH)

Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh now has the 50 votes required to be confirmed to the Supreme Court, after both GOP Sen. Susan Collins of Maine and Democrat Joe Manchin of West Virginia announced that they would be voting yes. GOP holdout Jeff Flake of Arizona also said that he would vote to confirm Kavanaugh “unless something big changed.” Earlier in the day, the Senate completed a cloture vote to advance Kavanaugh to final confirmation, which Manchin broke ranks and voted in favor of.

“Most senators sat at their desk as the dramatic roll call unfolded, with major suspense over where Murkowski, Manchin and Flake would land. Collins was the first swing vote to support Kavanaugh on the procedural roll call, quickly followed by Flake. Murkowski then inaudibly voted no, a jarring defection that left Republicans with no room for error. After it was clear that Kavanaugh had the 50 votes needed to advance, Manchin became Kavanaugh’s only Democratic supporter. Manchin, who left the chamber when the clerk called his name, came back into the chamber and voted in favor of Kavanaugh. His phone could be seen ringing and Manchin stared at it as the vote continued.” -Politico

“This is a difficult decision for everybody,” Flake said to reporters, who added that he thinks Kavanaugh will be confirmed on Saturday. Meanwhile, Sen. Steve Daines (R-MT) is set to fly to Montana to attend his daughter’s Saturday wedding. If the vote is too close without Daines, he will be forced to fly back to Washington D.C. to cast the deciding vote. “We’ll wait and see how this all unfolds,” Daines said. “We have transportation arranged and we’ll wait and see what happens.” He added that Rep. Greg Gianforte (R-MT) offered him the use of his private plane. President Trump has taken a largely hands-off approach to Kavanaugh’s confirmation – instead communicating in private with his political allies, such as Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), according to Politico, which adds that the White House is “cautiously opimistic” that Kavanaugh will be confirmed.

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How many Americans have multiple jobs?

US Unemployment Rate Falls To Lowest Level Since 1969 (G.)

US figures have shown the lowest jobless rate since the year of the first moon landings, keeping the world’s largest economy on course for further interest rate rises. Eagerly awaited figures for jobs and wages showed less inflationary pressure in the world’s biggest economy than had been feared, but still pointed to more hikes by the Federal Reserve. Financial markets had been braced for a sharp sell off had the latest monthly payroll numbers indicated faster employment growth and pay increases in September, which could have paved the way for faster-than-expected monetary tightening by the US central bank. As a result of the figures undershooting the most optimistic expectations, losses were smaller than feared in early trading in New York but all the major US markets ended down with the biggest losses on the tech heavy Nasdaq exchange.

Data from the Bureau for Labour Statistics (BLS) reported an increase in non-farm payrolls of 134,000 in September, well below the 180,000 predicted by Wall Street analysts. A 0.3% in pay left annual earnings 2.8% higher than a year earlier, a slightly weaker rate of increase than the 2.9% posted the previous month. Most economists said the jobs market remained strong, pointing to the drop in unemployment from 3.9% to 3.7% – its lowest since 1969 – and upward revisions to employment in July and August. Last month, the Fed raised short-term interest rates for the eighth time since 2015, to a range of 2%-2.25%, and indicated that there would be further increases “consistent with sustained expansion of economic activity”.

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Don’t have a collusion to investigate?

Mueller Moves For Forfeiture Order To Seize Manafort Assets (Hill)

Attorneys for special counsel Robert Mueller moved on Friday for an order to seize assets that former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort purchased with funds he hid from U.S. authorities in foreign bank accounts. Mueller’s attorneys submitted a court document as part of Manafort’s plea agreement asking Judge Amy Berman Jackson to grant a request to seize five properties in New York owned by Manafort as well as a life insurance policy and three bank accounts. Forfeiture of the assets identified as part of Manafort’s scheme to hide millions of dollars made lobbying for pro-Russia parties in Ukraine was agreed upon in a plea agreement Manafort signed with Mueller’s team last month.

Manafort signed the deal and agreed to cooperate with Mueller’s team to avoid a second trial in Washington, D.C., after a jury found him guilty on eight counts in a separate trial in northern Virginia in August. “[T]he defendant admitted to the forfeiture allegations in the Information and agreed that the following property constitutes or is derived from proceeds traceable to the offense alleged in Count One,” the court document states, while noting that two of the New York properties were substitutes for assets unable to be seized by the government.

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“..the entire Russiagate investigation was a ginned up operation research/information warfare campaign..”

Storm Clouds on Robert Mueller’s Horizon (LaRouche)

On October 3rd, the House Committees investigating the Department of Justice Russiagate insurrection against Donald Trump took testimony from behind closed doors from former FBI General Counsel James Baker, a close confidant of fired FBI Director James Comey. According to widespread leaks Thursday, October 4th, Baker’s testimony included the fact that he, Baker, met directly with Perkins, Coie, the lawyers for the DNC and Hillary Clinton, receiving directly materials which went into the FBI’s FISA warrant against Carter Page and characterized this process has “highly abnormal.” The Perkins, Coie, lawyer involved, Michael Sussman, is also the guy who orchestrated the fake information warfare story that the Russians hacked the DNC on behalf of Donald Trump.

Coming out of the testimony, one of the sources for the story spoke plainly: Baker’s testimony shows that the entire Russiagate investigation was a ginned up operation research/information warfare campaign, involving the FBI and Hillary’s Clinton’s campaign rather than any “conspiracy” involving the Trump Campaign and Russia. October 4th was the deadline for Andrew McCabe’s memos about meetings occurring in the wake of James Comey’s firing May, 2017, in which Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and others discussed wearing wires and recording the President and also invoking the 25th Amendment to remove the President.

In a discussion with Hill TV on Wednesday, Congressman Mark Meadows, who is leading this investigation, said that he has seen evidence that “confidential human sources” used by the FBI “actually taped members within the Trump campaign.” “There is strong suggestions in that some of the text messages, emails, and so forth who was involved, that extraordinary measures were used to surveil,” Meadows said. There is now a major national outcry for the President to declassify all of the relevant documents concerning Russiagate. Speculation on his failure, thus far, to do so, centers on both the Kavanaugh nomination fight and forcing his hand on Rosenstein before the Midterm elections.

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Looking for Blairite traitors.

May Secretly Woos Labour MP’s To Back Her Brexit Deal (G.)

Theresa May has drawn up plans for a secret charm offensive aimed at persuading dozens of Labour MPs to back her Brexit deal even if it costs Jeremy Corbyn the chance to be prime minister, the Guardian has learned. Senior Conservatives say they have already been in private contact with a number of Labour MPs over a period of several months, making the case that the national interest in avoiding a no-deal outcome is more important than forcing a general election by defeating the government on May’s Brexit deal. Now, with talks in Brussels entering their frantic final phase, the prime minister and her party whips are stepping up efforts to win backing for a compromise deal that one minister described as a “British blancmange”.

They are convinced they will need Labour votes to win, after a fractious Tory conference in Birmingham, at which determined opponents of the prime minister’s approach, including Jacob Rees-Mogg, won plaudits for saying they would vote against it. One Tory source compared the challenge of striking a deal with the EU27 that would satisfy both sides of his own party to “landing a jumbo jet on the penalty spot”. Labour MPs will thus be the focus of intense lobbying, in the period between May returning from Brussels with a Brexit deal and the meaningful vote, which is expected to come about a fortnight later.

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If May gives enough, yes…

Juncker: Brexit Deal Could Be Reached Within Weeks (Sky)

The president of the European Commission has said he is sure a Brexit agreement could be reached in November, if not sooner. Jean-Claude Juncker told three Austrian newspapers that Brexit without a deal “would not be good for the UK, as it is for the rest of the union”. He added: “I assume that we will reach agreement on the terms of the withdrawal agreement. “We also need to agree on a political statement that accompanies this withdrawal agreement – we are not that far yet.” He said: “I have reason to think that the rapprochement potential between both sides has increased in recent days, but it can not be foreseen whether we will finish in October. “If not, we’ll do it in November.”

Britain and the EU are trying to agree a divorce deal as well as one for a post-Brexit relationship in time for leaders’ summits scheduled for 17-18 October and 17-18 November. Mr Juncker insisted that the EU’s “will is unbroken to reach agreement” with Britain but spoke of his regret that the European Commission had not been involved in the 2016 referendum campaign. He said that the then-government of David Cameron had asked him “not to interfere”. “If the commission intervened, perhaps the right questions would have entered the debate,” he added. “Now you discover new problems almost daily, on both sides. “At that time it was already clear to us to what trials and tribulations this pitiful vote of the British would lead.”

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They’re bloated.

UK House Prices Fall Sharply In September (G.)

UK house prices unexpectedly dropped at the fastest pace for almost six months in September, according to Halifax, as the number of homes for sale in 2018 fell to a decade low. Britain’s biggest mortgage lender said the average price of a home in Britain dropped to £225,995 last month, down 1.4% from the level recorded in August. The price of a home remained 2.5% higher than a year ago. City economists had forecast month-on-month growth of 0.2% in September. The latest snapshot of the housing market a little more than six months before Britain leaves the EU suggests sluggish levels of demand for home buying amid the political uncertainty of Brexit.

Economists said the national picture painted by Halifax obscured some regional differences. London house prices are falling for the first time since 2009, yet prices elsewhere are rising. They also cautioned that the Halifax house price index can be more changeable than other industry barometers of residential property because it is on a monthly basis. Earlier this week Theresa May announced the government would lift a cap on the amount councils can borrow to build housing, potentially helping to increase the number of homes built by local authorities.

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“..I’ve never seen a political fiasco as demented as the Kavanaugh confirmation process..”

Fishtailing into the Future (Jim Kunstler)

[..] at the macro level, this system and its subsystems are out-of-control and shaking themselves loose. Government has attempted to prop them up by schemes that amount to racketeering of one kind or another — the dishonest manipulation and representation of money — and now money itself is in revolt, as can be seen in the sudden rise of interest rates, especially the ten-year US Treasury Bond above 3.2 percent just before today’s market open

The US government can’t handle interest rates at this level, after decades of debt accumulation. Other nations can’t pay back their dollar-denominated loans either, and that has produced havoc at the so-called margins of the global economy — as currencies crash, and companies go under, and sovereign debt instruments melt down. You can be sure that this disorder will eventually spread from the margins to the center, which is the USA. It’s already up-and-running in our politics, which might be considered the early warning system of the larger picture. In my long life of three-score and ten, I’ve never seen a political fiasco as demented as the Kavanaugh confirmation process, with its harking back to Medieval social hysterias and stunning exercises in bad faith.

This riveting horror show has also distracted the nation — and a media fully invested in compounding the psychodrama — from the momentous tectonic movements in the world’s money system, now shaking apart. Among other things, it will blow up the fantasy that Mr. Trump has magically orchestrated a new miracle economy. But it will also bring to an abrupt close the pornographic machinations of his adversaries in Swamptown. And then we will get on in earnest with the true business of the long emergency — making new arrangements, however difficult — to escape the deadly clutter of our own constructed hyper-complex hyper-reality.

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The US will fight back.

Russia Announces Plan To Disentangle Its Economy From US Dollar (RT)

The Russian Finance Ministry has announced a plan to wean the country of dollar dependence. It is expected to be a long and painful process. RT has asked analysts to explain how this could be done. According to the plan published this week, Russia seeks to de-dollarize the economy by 2024. The program is long and complicated, but its key point is that Russian exporters who use rubles instead of dollars would get huge taxation benefits including quicker VAT returns and other stimulus to ditch the greenback. But there are also other ways to strengthen the role of the ruble in Russia.

“It is necessary to gradually switch to such a system of international payments, which implies payment in rubles for Russia’s best and most popular goods on the world market like oil, gas and arms exclusively,” Andrey Perekalsky, analyst at insurance brokerage FinIst, told RT. Russia should also unite with China and the European Union in creating a payment channel that can’t be controlled by the United States. The alternative to the SWIFT interbank settlement network that could bypass Iranian sanctions could be seen as a first step in that direction, the analyst notes. Petr Pushkarev, chief analyst at TeleTrade, says that Russia with its almost $500 billion in foreign reserves, could keep the ruble stable despite US sanctions pressure. The current period of high oil prices could also help.

However, Russia should diversify not only into rubles, but also use the Chinese yuan, Vietnamese dong, Indian rupee, and even the euro, the analyst says. “The euro shouldn’t be feared. The dollar is pretty much overvalued against the euro; the IMF forecasts a gradual devaluation of the dollar by 10-15 percent,” Pushkarev said. “American policy is disliked not only in Russia. EU officials have already openly announced that they are starting to create their own system of settlements with Iran, in which transactions will not be transparent to the US authorities and therefore will not be subject to sanctions,” he added.

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Funny.

Banksy Artwork Shreds Itself After £1m Sale At Sotheby’s (BBC)

A stencil spray painting by elusive artist Banksy shredded itself after it was sold for more than £1m. Girl With Balloon, one of Banksy’s most widely recognised works, was auctioned by Sotheby’s in London. The framed piece shows a girl reaching towards a heart-shaped balloon and was the final work sold at the auction. However, in a twist to be expected from street art’s most subversive character, the canvas suddenly passed through a shredder installed in the frame. Posting a picture of the moment on Instagram, Banksy wrote: “Going, going, gone…”

The 2006 piece was shown dangling in pieces from the bottom of the frame, after it sold for £1.042m on Friday night. “It appears we just got Banksy-ed,” said Alex Branczik, Sotheby’s senior director and head of contemporary art in Europe. Banksy is a Bristol-born artist whose true identity – despite rampant speculation – has never been officially revealed. He came to prominence through a series of graffiti pieces that appeared on buildings across the country, marked by deeply satirical undertones. Friday’s self-destruction was the latest in a long history of anti-establishment statements by the street artist.

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Aug 082017
 
 August 8, 2017  Posted by at 9:06 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  Comments Off on Debt Rattle August 8 2017


Vincent van Gogh Tree Roots 1890 (painted July 28, the day before he died)

 

That Whoosh You Heard? It’s The Great Chinese Property Pullback (BBG)
Has China’s Rise Topped Out? (BBG)
Credit Card Debt; Student, Auto Loans All Set New Record Highs (ZH)
Asking Prices Slashed At High End of the House Price Bubble (WS)
Is Trump Winning? (Robert Gore)
Jeff Sessions Endorses Theft (Ron Paul)
Just Wait a Little While (Jim Kunstler)
Fossil Fuel Subsidies Are A Staggering $5 Trillion Per Year (G.)
Bernie Sanders Tells Big Pharma: Stop Making Americans Pay Twice
Call For ‘Military Schengen’ To Get NATO Troops Moving (Pol.)
Erdogan Says Turkey To Tackle – US-Supported – Kurds In Syria (R.)
Greece Accepts Resettlement of Refugees from Germany (GR)

 

 

China needs foreign reserves. It needs to stop bleeding them.

That Whoosh You Heard? It’s The Great Chinese Property Pullback (BBG)

That whoosh you just heard? It’s Chinese money pulling back from property in London to Sydney to New York. Capital centres globally should brace for tumbling real-estate prices as Beijing manages to do what Brexit and higher interest rates haven’t. Reflecting tighter regulations, China overseas direct property investment could drop 84% to $US1.7 billion ($2.15 billion) this year and about another 15% to $US1.4 billion in 2018, according to Morgan Stanley. Mainland money began piling into offshore commercial property in 2013. Land prices were expensive at home, and investors wanted to find a hedge against a weakening yuan. Another draw was the prospect of higher returns in cities such as Sydney where yield spreads – the difference between rental yields and what government bonds pay – are higher.

A slumping British pound post June 2016’s Brexit vote helped, too. While some marquee transactions are still being inked – think the purchase earlier this year of London’s “Cheesegrater” tower by Chongqing-based, Hong Kong-listed CC Land Holdings – their numbers are dwindling. A strengthening yuan, along with China’s One Belt One Road initiative that needs funding, will see many property deals dry up. Over the past few months, Beijing has made it tougher to get money out, clamped down on more fanciful transactions such as the buying of football clubs and luxury hotels, and is now going after some of the country’s most prolific acquirers. Dalian Wanda Group, Anbang Insurance Group, HNA Group and Fosun International have all included real estate in their global buying binges.

Against that backdrop, and with increasing foreign-government scrutiny thrown into the mix, it’s hard to see how Chinese offshore real estate acquisitions can continue at such a pace. Domestic developers are already finding it harder to tap international debt markets, and have been resorting to short-term securities instead. This matters because Chinese capital accounted for one-quarter of commercial property transactions in central London last year, up from 1% a decade ago. China is now the second-largest foreign investor in the US after Canada, and is responsible for between 12 and 25% of all office transactions by value in Australia over the past two to three years.

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Again, China needs foreign reserves: “Nowhere is the disconnect between China’s global ambitions and actual policy greater than with the government’s interference in overseas direct investment.”

Has China’s Rise Topped Out? (BBG)

Most people around the world still seem to believe China’s ascent is relentless and inevitable. A recent survey by the Pew Research Center showed that while more of those polled still see the U.S. as the world’s leading economy, China is quickly narrowing the gap. Chinese President Xi Jinping has been feeding that positive image by presenting his country as a champion of globalization, trade and economic progress. Statistics tell a different story. The common perception is that China is swamping the world with exports of everything from mobile phones to steel to sneakers. In fact, the entire Chinese export machine is sputtering. Between 2006 and 2011, China’s total merchandise exports nearly doubled, powering the country through the Great Recession. Since then, they’ve increased less than 11%, according to World Trade Organization data.

The same trend holds for China’s currency. In late 2014, the renminbi broke into the top five most-used currencies for global payments, reaching an almost 2.2% share. China seemed well on the way to achieving its long-stated goal of turning the yuan into a true rival to the dollar. But that progress has reversed. In June, the renminbi chalked up only a 2% share, according to Swift, slipping behind the Canadian dollar. The situation isn’t very different in China’s capital markets. While the government has cracked open its stock and bond markets to foreign investors, they still prefer buying Chinese shares listed in Hong Kong or New York to those in Shanghai or Shenzhen. For instance, domestically traded A-shares in a China equities fund managed by Zurich-based GAM account for less than 10% of its holdings.

In part, China is simply running into the difficult transition every country faces when losing its low-cost advantage. Facing stiff competition from countries like India and Vietnam, where wages are lower, China is losing ground in apparel and textile exports to the United States. Meanwhile, the Chinese economy isn’t replacing these traditional exports with new, high-value ones quickly enough. For example, in 2016, China exported 708,000 passenger and commercial vehicles, a sharp deterioration from the more than 910,000 shipped abroad in 2014. Rather than boosting China’s global expansion, government policy is holding it back. The renminbi remains a sideshow in currency markets because the state can’t stop fussing with its value. In May, the central bank actually reversed its stated policy to liberalize the renminbi’s trading and imposed more control.

[..] Nowhere is the disconnect between China’s global ambitions and actual policy greater than with the government’s interference in overseas direct investment. For a while, officials were encouraging big companies to shop abroad, resulting in a surge of deal-making by firms like Anbang. That led to a debt-crazed buying binge. Having created the problem, the government then stepped in to “fix” it, by suddenly changing course and clamping down on foreign deals. According to the American Enterprise Institute, China’s offshore investment still grew by 9% in the first half of 2017, but only because of one giant deal – state-owned China National Chemical Corp.’s acquisition of Syngenta AG. Take that one out, and overseas investment would have fallen by about a third.

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Masters and debt slaves.

Credit Card Debt; Student, Auto Loans All Set New Record Highs (ZH)

Who would have expected that today’s otherwise boring monthly consumer credit report would be the day’s most exciting event. Well, moments ago the monthly update from the Federal Reserve confirmed that as of the end of June, total revolving (i.e. credit card) credit rose to $1,021.7 billion, an increase of $4.1 billion on the month, and a new all time high, taking out the previous record high set during the summer of 2008.

Coupled with the monthly $8.3 billion increase in non-revolving credit, which also rose to an all time high of $2,834.1 billion…

… means that total consumer credit in June increased by $12.4 billion, slightly less than the $13.9 billion expected and modestly less than the $18.4 billion increase in May, to $3,855.8 billion, also a record high.

Taking a closer look at the quarterly update in non-revolving debt, we find that for another consecutive quarter, both student and auto loans hit record highs, of $1.450 trillion and $1.131 trillion respectively, although there does appears to be a modest slowdown in credit issuance for these two largest categories.

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“Aspirational pricing”: pumping the market.

Asking Prices Slashed At High End of the House Price Bubble (WS)

No, Cantor Fitzgerald CEO Howard Lutnick didn’t “save” $81 million when he bought the most expensive listing in New York City, the 12,000-square-foot, 16-room triplex penthouse on the 41st, 42nd, and 43rd floors of The Pierre, a co-op tower on Fifth Avenue dating from 1930s. By the way, the owner also pays monthly maintenance charges for the apartment of $51,840). Asking price was $125 million when it was first listed in March 2013. In December that year, the price was slashed to $95 million. In 2015, it was cut to $63 million. That’s half of the original asking price. But it still didn’t sell. So it was taken off the market. After it underwent a modern redesign, it was re-listed in April 2016 for $57 million. It still didn’t sell. But on August 2, Page Six reported that Lutnick bought it for $44 million. At 65% below asking.

“Cantor Fitzgerald CEO buys iconic triplex at $81M discount,” said the Page Six headline. “Best Real Estate Headline Ever,” said Jonathan Miller, real-estate appraiser and author of the Elliman Report series, in his Housing Notes. Miller has a word for this phenomenon of enormous blue-sky asking prices that trigger subsequent massive and serial price reductions until finally someone bites: “Aspirational pricing.” “The very idea that a home seller would discount their home by $81 million to make the sale is an insane thought. This speaks to the concept I call “aspirational pricing.” The asking price was set to a price so ridiculous that it would literally sit on the market for years and the market would unlikely catch up in a lifetime. More importantly, it serves as misdirection for other high-end properties coming to the market by influencing them to also wildly over price as well.”

The 6,800-square-foot fully furnished penthouse occupying the top floor of the beachfront condo tower at 321 Ocean in South Beach, Miami Beach, was listed for sale in December 2015 for $53 million. The sellers had bought it when the building was completed six months earlier, for $20 million. “Financier Aims for Ambitious $53 Million Miami Penthouse Flip,” The Wall Street Journal said at the time. The hopeful flippers are Boris Jordan and Elizabeth Jordan: Founder of the private-equity and advisory firm the Sputnik Group, Mr. Jordan previously served as chief executive of the state-controlled Russian media conglomerate Gazprom-Media, and as head of the Russian television network NTV. But the hot air has come out of the condo market in Miami Beach. In the second quarter, after years of soaring, the median sale price for non-distressed condos dropped 7.5%, and the average price plunged 15.2%, according to the Elliman Report.

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A different look.

Is Trump Winning? (Robert Gore)

We’ve asserted that President Trump is far smarter and the powers that be far stupider and weaker than current consensus estimates. Trump’s primary motivation is power. The nonstop vilification campaign against him has little to do with policy differences and instead reflects establishment fears that Trump will investigate, expose, and punish its criminality. The upshot of these hypotheses: Trump is winning and has consolidated his power. [..] Even the Washington Post has admitted the Russia probe is “crumbling.” Trump and Sessions know Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller won’t find much because there’s nothing there, although there may be a sacrificial offering or two to propitiate the investigatory gods.

Trump read Sessions the riot act via Twitter and a Wall Street Journal interview about not investigating Hillary Clinton, intelligence community leaks to the press, and Ukrainian efforts to sabotage his presidential campaign. He’s been roundly condemned for publicly criticizing Sessions, but here’s a speculative leap: perhaps publicly criticizing Sessions was not really what Trump was doing. Perhaps Trump was giving his attorney general political cover to pursue investigations against high-profile Democrats who cannot help Trump, sub rosa or otherwise. Investigations of Hillary Clinton, former Attorney General Loretta Lynch, Susan Rice, Samantha Power, Fusion GPS, and Debbie Wasserman Schultz would demoralize the Democrats, preoccupy and harass key players, expose criminality, and electrify Trump’s base.

Providing Sessions further cover, twenty Republican representatives have sent a letter to the Attorney General and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein demanding the appointment of a second Special Counsel to look into potentially illegal acts by Clinton, Lynch, and former FBI director James Comey. After recusing himself from the Russiagate investigation, which he knows is pointless, and being “scolded” by Trump, Sessions is now a sympathetic, squeaky-clean figure; even Democrats have expressed support. He has far more latitude to pursue the investigations his boss wants him to pursue. Most of the ensuing criticism will be directed at Trump, which will bother Trump not at all (although there will undoubtedly be answering Twitter blasts).

Trump has quietly (when Trump does anything quietly, take note) made two sea changes in US policy in Syria. At the G20 summit, he negotiated a cease fire with Vladimir Putin for southwest Syria. Last week he ended a CIA program that armed Syrian jihadists fighting Bashar al-Assad’s regime. Both changes are anathema to the US Deep State, the mainstream media, and US allies Saudi Arabia, the Gulf States, Israel, and Turkey, yet other than “rote denunciation,” they have been surprisingly docile. The latter change could presage abandonment of a pillar of US foreign and military policy since President Carter supplied arms and other aid to the mujahideen in Afghanistan during their successful fight against the Soviet Union. The US may be out of the business of arming Islamic insurgents against regimes it seeks to change.

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Another look, different from the last one.

Jeff Sessions Endorses Theft (Ron Paul)

Attorney General Jeff Sessions recently ordered the Justice Department to increase the use of civil asset forfeiture, thus once again endorsing an unconstitutional, authoritarian, and increasingly unpopular policy. Civil asset forfeiture, which should be called civil asset theft, is the practice of seizing property believed to be involved in a crime. The government keeps the property even if it never convicts, or even charges, the owner of the property. Police can even use civil asset theft to steal from people whose property was used in criminal activity without the owners’ knowledge. Some have even lost their homes because a renter or houseguest was dealing drugs on the premises behind the owners’ backs. Civil asset theft is a multi-billion dollar a year moneymaker for all levels of government.

Police and prosecutors receive more than their “fair share” of the loot. According to a 2016 study by the Institute for Justice, 43 states allow police and prosecutors to keep at least half of the loot they got from civil asset theft. Obviously, this gives police an incentive to aggressively use civil asset theft, even against those who are not even tangentially involved in a crime. For example, police in Tenaha, Texas literally engaged in highway robbery — seizing cash and other items from innocent motorists — while police in Detroit once seized every car in an art institute’s parking lot. The official justification for that seizure was that the cars belonged to attendees at an event for which the institute had failed to get a liquor license. The Tenaha police are not the only ones targeting those carrying large sums of cash.

Anyone traveling with “too much” cash runs the risk of having it stolen by a police officer, since carrying large amounts of cash is treated as evidence of involvement in criminal activity. Civil asset theft also provides an easy way for the IRS to squeeze more money from the American taxpayer. As the growing federal debt increases the pressure to increase tax collections without raising tax rates, the IRS will likely ramp up its use of civil asset forfeiture. Growing opposition to the legalized theft called civil asset forfeiture has led 24 states to pass laws limiting its use. Sadly, but not surprisingly, Attorney General Jeff Sessions is out of step with this growing consensus. After all, Sessions is a cheerleader for the drug war, and civil asset theft came into common usage as a tool in the drug war. President Trump could do the American people a favor by naming a new attorney general who opposes police state policies like the drug war and police state tactics like civil asset theft.

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“We’ll use every kind of duct tape and baling wire we can find to keep the current systems operating, and we have..”

Just Wait a Little While (Jim Kunstler)

The authorities in this nation, including government, business, and academia, routinely lie about our national financial operations for a couple of reasons. One is that they know the situation is hopeless but the consequences are so awful to contemplate that resorting to accounting fraud and pretense is preferable to facing reality. Secondarily, they do it to protect their jobs and reputations — which they will lose anyway as collapse proceeds and their record of feckless dishonesty reveals itself naturally.

The underlying issue is the scale of human activity in our time. It has exceeded its limits and we have to tune back a lot of what we do. Anything organized at the giant scale is headed for failure, so it comes down to a choice between outright collapse or severe re-scaling, which you might think of as managed contraction. That goes for government programs, military adventures, corporate enterprise, education, transportation, health care, agriculture, urban design, basically everything.

There is an unfortunate human inclination to not reform, revise, or re-scale familiar activities. We’ll use every kind of duct tape and baling wire we can find to keep the current systems operating, and we have, but we’re close to the point where that sort of cob-job maintenance won’t work anymore, especially where money is concerned. Why this is so has been attributed to intrinsic human brain programming that supposedly evolved optimally for short-term planning. But obviously many people and institutions dedicate themselves to long-term thinking. So there must be a big emotional over-ride represented by the fear of letting go of what used to work that tends to disable long-term thinking.

It’s hard to accept that our set-up is about to stop working — especially something as marvelous as techno-industrial society. But that’s exactly what’s happening. If you want a chance at keeping on keeping on, you’ll have to get with reality’s program. Start by choosing a place to live that has some prospect of remaining civilized. This probably doesn’t include our big cities. But there are plenty of small cities and small towns out in America that are scaled for the resource realities of the future, waiting to be reinhabited and reactivated. A lot of these lie along the country’s inland waterways — the Ohio, Mississippi, Missouri river system, the Great Lakes, the Hudson and St. Lawrence corridors — and they also exist in regions of the country were food can be grown.

You’ll have to shift your energies into a trade or vocation that makes you useful to other people. This probably precludes jobs like developing phone apps, day-trading, and teaching gender studies. Think: carpentry, blacksmithing, basic medicine, mule-breeding, simplified small retail, and especially farming, along with the value-added activities entailed in farm production. The entire digital economy is going to fade away like a drug-induced hallucination, so beware the current narcissistic blandishments of computer technology. Keep in mind that being in this world actually entitles you to nothing. One way or another, you’ll have to earn everything worth having, including self-respect and your next meal. Now, just wait a little while.

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Political power.

Fossil Fuel Subsidies Are A Staggering $5 Trillion Per Year (G.)

Fossil fuels have two major problems that paint a dim picture for their future energy dominance. These problems are inter-related but still should be discussed separately. First, they cause climate change. We know that, we’ve known it for decades, and we know that continued use of fossil fuels will cause enormous worldwide economic and social consequences. Second, fossil fuels are expensive. Much of their costs are hidden, however, as subsidies. If people knew how large their subsidies were, there would be a backlash against them from so-called financial conservatives. A study was just published in the journal World Development that quantifies the amount of subsidies directed toward fossil fuels globally, and the results are shocking. The authors work at the IMF and are well-skilled to quantify the subsidies discussed in the paper.

Let’s give the final numbers and then back up to dig into the details. The subsidies were $4.9 tn in 2013 and they rose to $5.3 tn just two years later. According to the authors, these subsidies are important because first, they promote fossil fuel use which damages the environment. Second, these are fiscally costly. Third, the subsidies discourage investments in energy efficiency and renewable energy that compete with the subsidized fossil fuels. Finally, subsidies are very inefficient means to support low-income households. With these truths made plain, why haven’t subsidies been eliminated? The answer to that is a bit complicated. Part of the answer to this question is that people do not fully appreciate the costs of fossil fuels to the rest of us. Often we think of them as all gain with no pain.

So what is a subsidy anyway? Well, that too isn’t black and white. Typically, people on the street think of a subsidy as a direct financial cost that result in consumers paying a price that is below the opportunity cost of the product (fossil fuel in this case). However, as pointed out by the authors, a more correct view of the costs would encompass: “..not only supply costs but also (most importantly) environmental costs like global warming and deaths from air pollution and taxes applied to consumer goods in general.” The authors argue, persuasively, that this broader view of subsidies is the correct view because they “reflect the gap between consumer prices and economically efficient prices.”

Without getting too deep into the weeds, the authors discuss both consumer subsidies (when the price paid by a consumer is below a benchmark price) and producer subsidies (when producers receive direct or indirect support which increases their profitability). The authors then quantify what benefits would be achieved if the fossil fuel subsidies were reformed. Interested readers are directed to the paper for further details, but the results are what surprised me. Pre-tax (the narrow view of subsidies) subsidies amount to 0.7% of global GDP in 2011 and 2013. But the more appropriate definition of subsidies is much larger (8 times larger than the pre-tax subsidies). We are talking enormous values of 5.8% of global GDP in 2011, rising to 6.5% in 2013.

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Just how simple it really is. If you can’t stop this, forget about it.

Bernie Sanders Tells Big Pharma: Stop Making Americans Pay Twice

While both political parties have denounced the rising cost of prescription drugs, neither Democrats nor Republicans have done much to address the problem. But this summer, a new tool to restrict the rising prices of drugs developed with taxpayer dollars has been introduced by the two U.S. senators who don’t belong to either party. The mechanism works like this: Drug manufacturers who take federal money to develop drugs must keep their U.S. prices in line with the prices they charge in other economically advanced nations — typically much lower than drug prices in the U.S. The system would prevent pharmaceutical companies from effectively double-charging U.S. consumers by using their tax money for research and then charging them some of the steepest prices in the world at the pharmacy.

Pharmaceutical companies, who pour millions of dollars into both the Democratic and Republican parties, are against the idea, which is perhaps why the fix is being pushed by Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Angus King of Maine, the only independents in congress. The U.S. has the highest level of per capita pharmaceutical spending of any nation on Earth, according to the OECD. And while Americans spend more than any other country to buy their drugs, they also spend more than any other country to develop those same drugs. In June, King successfully added an amendment to the 2018 military spending bill (still working its way through congress) that would allow the Department of Defense to take away exclusive patents from drug companies that benefitted from DoD funding if their drug price in the U.S. rises above the median price in seven foreign countries with similar economies.

Then last week, Sanders introduced legislation that would tie the prices of drugs made with government funding to costs in other countries. Unlike King’s amendment, Sanders’ bill would expand the concept beyond the DoD. The bill requires companies taking federal funds to develop drugs to enter into “reasonable pricing” agreements with the Secretary of Health and Human Services. “Under this insane system, Americans pay twice. First we pay to create these lifesaving drugs, then we pay high prices to buy those drugs,” wrote Sanders in a New York Times op-ed. “Our government must stop being pushovers for the pharmaceutical industry and its 1,400 lobbyists.”

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Soon to come: US soldiers parading in your streets. Will German and Estonian batallions appear in Kansas and Texas as well?

Call For ‘Military Schengen’ To Get NATO Troops Moving (Pol.)

European leaders have made a priority of greater military cooperation, yet the ability of NATO forces to operate in Europe is still hindered by border restrictions and mismatched infrastructure, according to uniformed commanders and EU defense ministers. While NATO has made substantial progress in surmounting legal hurdles to cross-border operations, lingering bureaucratic requirements — such as passport checks at some border crossings and infrastructure problems, like roads and bridges that can’t accommodate large military vehicles — could slow or even cripple any allied response to an emerging threat, officials warned. To lift the roadblocks, and speed coordinated military action, the Dutch defense minister, Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, called on EU officials to create a so-called military Schengen zone.

The idea, loosely modeled on the open-border travel zone that has covered most of Europe since 1996, has also been a long-time goal of the senior United States Army commander in Europe, Lieutenant General Ben Hodges. “We must be able to move quickly to any place where there is a threat,” Hennis-Plasschaert said in a statement announcing her proposal at a meeting of NATO defense ministers in June. NATO leaders insist they have addressed the most problematic obstacles to cross-border operations, but nonetheless welcomed the Dutch proposal as a way to raise political pressure and create a sense of urgency around further improving the “interoperability” of allied countries. Officials say the obstacles are only apparent during peacetime exercises and planning, and that during a real military emergency, NATO’s supreme allied commander for Europe — based in Mons, Belgium — would simply warn allies and deploy as needed.

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“Turkey, which has the second largest army in NATO after the United States..”

Erdogan Says Turkey To Tackle – US-Supported – Kurds In Syria (R.)

Days after a reshuffle of Turkey’s top military commanders, President Tayyip Erdogan has revived warnings of military action against Kurdish fighters in Syria that could set back the U.S.-led battle against Islamic State. Kurdish militia are spearheading an assault against the hardline militants in their Syrian stronghold Raqqa, from where Islamic State has planned attacks around the world for the past three years. But U.S. backing for the Kurdish YPG fighters in Syria has infuriated Turkey, which views their growing battlefield strength as a security threat due to a decades-old insurgency by the Kurdish PKK within in its borders. There have been regular exchanges of rocket and artillery fire in recent weeks between Turkish forces and YPG fighters who control part of Syria’s northwestern border.

Turkey, which has the second largest army in NATO after the United States, reinforced that section of the border at the weekend with artillery and tanks and Erdogan said Turkey was ready to take action. “We will not leave the separatist organization in peace in both Iraq and Syria,” Erdogan said in a speech on Saturday in the eastern town of Malatya, referring to the YPG in Syria and PKK bases in Iraq. “We know that if we do not drain the swamp, we cannot get rid of flies.” The YPG denies Turkish allegations of links with Kurdish militants inside Turkey, saying it is only interested in self-rule in Syria and warning that any Turkish assault will draw its fighters away from the battle against Islamic State which they are waging in an alliance with local Arab forces.

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Bend over. We have something for you.

Greece Accepts Resettlement of Refugees from Germany (GR)

For the first time since 2011, Germany will again begin the resettlement of refugees to Greece under the EU Dublin Regulation. Migration Policy Minister Yiannis Mouzalas confirmed on German television that Greece will accept refugees who are currently in Germany and whose first entry into the EU was from Greece. The regulation applies to all refugees entering the EU since March 2017. The Dublin Regulation determines the EU Member State responsible to examine an application for asylum seekers seeking international protection. Usually, the responsible Member State will be the state through which the asylum seeker first entered the EU.

In an interview with the German TV to be aired on Monday evening, Mouzalas says: “A few days ago, we approved a small number of refugee returns related to the Dublin Regulation, by Germany and some other EU member states. Greek asylum authorities have undertaken the implementation of the procedure. “There was pressure from EU countries to start accepting resettlements. I understand that governments want to convince their citizens that they are doing something [about the refugee crisis]. That’s why I want to help them.” Deutsche Welle reports that according to the German Ministry of Interior, up to July 31, a total of 392 applications for resettlement were filed with the Greek authorities. The German ministry adds that “the specific dates for their return to Greece depends on the Greek authorities.”

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