Dec 192019

Saul Leiter Harlem 1960


Lots of news outlets labeled yesterday’s House vote to impeach President Trump “historic”. It was. But what was historic about it was not that Donald Trump became the third president to be impeached. What was historic was the way it was done. That was a first.

Because it was not the House that impeached President Donald Trump, it was the Democratic Party. Which just happened to have the majority in the House. They appear to think that this is all that’s needed, which is a big mistake and an even bigger gamble. A gamble on the value and future of the US Constitution and the entire political system.

In an exercise in sanctimonious rhetoric, Nancy Pelosi and several other Democratic House members claim they are the only ones upholding the Constitution, and they’re the only ones who know what America’s Founding Fathers had in mind while writing the Constitution, and what they wrote about impeachment. Maybe someone should point out -again- that the Constitution is a document written by slaveholders. See how that flies with their black constituency.

Then again, none of this is really much different from what their witnesses in the past weeks had to say about Trump’s phone call with Ukraine president Zelensky, the one and only issue that impeachment eventually came to rely on, after years of trying to find something “impeachable”. That is, it’s not about facts, it’s about opinion and interpretation.

Trump asked Zelensky to look into a number of issues. But never said he wanted him to do that in order to elevate his chances in an election which was at that point a year and a half away, and in which Joe Biden’s role was not then, nor is it now, anywhere near assured. While there are many lingering questions surrounding the roles of both Joe and Hunter Biden.

For most of the witnesses called by the Democrats, including 3 “legal experts”, it was for some reason clear what Trump meant even though he never said it. That is a mighty slippery slope. That all three were donors to various Democrats is just icing on the slippery cake. But what remains most important is these were opinions, and they were not based on facts.


And we should at least be able to agree that facts are undoubtedly what the Founders meant for impeachment to be based on. They were wary enough of the instrument to set it up the way they did, with the role of the House and the separate role of the Senate, where a 2/3 vote is required. They did not want it based on hearsay and personal bias.

What they did not foresee was what has happened now, they trusted both the system and future politicians to safeguard themselves against using impeachment as a partisan political tool. They were wrong.

Well into this year, 2019, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi still emphasized the need for impeachment proceedings to be bipartisan. In March she said: “Impeachment is so divisive to the country that unless there’s something so compelling and overwhelming and bipartisan, I don’t think we should go down that path..”

And on June 16, a full two months after the Mueller report came out: “I don’t think there’s anything more divisive we can do than to impeach a president of the United States, and so you have to handle it with great care..”

By September 24, however, again two full months after the Trump-Zelensky call, she abandoned that principle, and it’s not fully clear why, other than “unverified claims of an anonymous whistleblower”. She insisted it was because of the Zelensky call, but we’ve all been able to read there was not enough in that call for either her change of mind or, for that matter, impeachment itself.


Nancy Pelosi now hints she will delay sending articles of impeachment to the Senate because she wants to make sure the process is bipartisan. But does anyone want to claim that what happened in the House was bipartisan? If so, pray tell how we can tell it was.

Adam Schiff, like Nancy, questions if there will be a fair trial in the Senate. Does he mean like the one he presided over in the House, with behind closed doors testimony, no witnesses for the other side, and a committee chairman who constantly interrupts representatives from the other side? He may well get exactly that, just from a very different angle.

Schiff and his Democrats have been after Trump since before the 2016 elections, and the number of times they have uttered terms like “overwhelming” and “uncontested evidence” are impossible to count. But the “evidence” never was uncontested. And it isn’t to this day.

Something I don’t quite understand is that everybody knows Trump knew the call was recorded, and many people were listening in on it while it took place, so the entire interpretation of contents of the call as impeachable -he didn’t say it but he meant to- must be based on the idea that Trump is incredibly dumb – or evil?! Even if he would have wanted dirt on Joe Biden because of 2020, he could have gone about it in less “evident” ways than a semi-public phone call.


A house divided cannot stand. Yet the Democrats use their majority in the House to de facto say they ARE the House and thereby divide it. Unfortunately for them, this House too, cannot stand divided. It will crumble.

If one values the Constitution, the House, the Senate and the Office of President of the United States, one must treat all of these with the utmost care and respect. Which means you cannot get rid of a president just because you don’t like him or her, because if you do, you open the floodgates and you might as well throw everything America’s politics is based upon, out the window.

You can’t impeach a president based on hearsay, opinions, conjecture or personal interpretations of words s/he said. But that’s all I’ve seen and read and heard.

The Democrats are confident they can come out of this in one piece, and many even think as winners. Donald Trump doesn’t feel much of a threat, and why should he, but it’s been three years of great nuisance that now culminate in Pelosi not even having the courage to go to the Senate with her cherished impeachment articles.

Meanwhile though, the divisions in America have grown so deep it feels like Moses himself created them. And that is the real damage done. You can’t attack the political system, and the presidency, with anything but solid evidence, without doing real damage. Well, it has been done.

If Trump gets re-elected, and I would wager he will be after all the circus, the Dems can only start the wheel again. If a miracle Democrat gets the nod, the Republicans will initiate the same treatment Trump has received during his entire presidency. And so on and so forth until death do us part.


PS I stole the title from Michael Goodwin, who used it as his closing line.

PS2 I know there are not really two political parties in the US, but the growing gaping divide between the people is very real



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Jul 052018

René Magritte The secret player 1927


There’s something wonderfully -though at the same time sadly- ironic in simultaneously contemplating America’s Independence Day and Greece’s NO! (OXI!) vote three years ago that was subsequently defeated by it own prime minister, Alexis Tsipras, at the behest of the European Union’s powers that be.

Where Americans managed to break free of their yoke in 1776, the Greeks did not. Indeed, they were betrayed by their own. There are certainly plenty of similarities with the Declaration of Independence to be made, plenty voices and forces that sought to defeat the Founding Fathers. In the end, the result is simple: the Americans succeeded in breaking free, the Greeks did not.

It’s just that this is not where the story halts; it’s not the whole story. You can say that the Greeks are not independent while the Americans are, but that is true in name only. What does that famous American independence consist of?

How free and independent are Americans really today? In 1956, Dwight Eisenhower famously talked about the military-industrial complex that the nation should beware of, but 62 years later is seems safe to say his warning was not heeded.

Donald Trump ran on a non-interventionist platform, but the military-industrial complex appears to have him gift-wrapped up and ready for delivery a year and a half into his presidency. Under Trump, the US have dropped more bombs than even under Obama, no small feat.

It is of course well understood that if you justify such action properly through the media, the people will buy about anything when it comes to waging war abroad, but it’s still not what people voted for. They are not independent of the war machine.

And you can take this one step further. You can ask how independent a nation can really be if its citizens never learn to have independent thought, if they are deliberately never taught how to think for themselves. How can you be independent if and when other people define your thought and views?

Every single American and European must recognize at least part of Caitlin Johnstone’s Babies. It may read as if it’s describing some Chinese or Soviet system, or even Huxley or Orwell, but there’s not really any plausible denial that at least some of what she says resonates with you:



When a baby is born, its parents teach it how to eat solid foods and walk and talk, which generally works out fine. Then they start teaching the baby all the lies their parents taught them, and things start to get messy. When the baby is old enough, they send it to school, where it spends twelve years being taught lies about how the world works so that one day it will be able to watch CNN and say “Yes, this makes perfect sense” instead of “This is ridiculous” or “Why does this whole entire thing seem completely fake?” or “I want to punch Chris Cuomo in the throat.”

The baby is taught history, which is the study of the ancient, leftover propaganda from whichever civilization happened to win the wars in a given place at a given time. The baby is taught geography, so that later on when its country begins bombing another country, the baby’s country won’t be embarrassed if its citizens cannot find that country on a globe. The baby is taught obedience, and the importance of performing meaningless tasks in a timely manner.

This prepares the baby for the half century of pointless gear-turning it will be expected to undertake after graduation. The baby is taught that it lives in a free country, with a legitimate electoral system which facilitates meaningful elections of actual representatives in a real government. It is never taught that those elections, representatives and government are all owned and operated by the very rich, who use them to ensure policies which make them even richer while keeping everyone else as poor as possible so that they won’t have to share political power.

And so you get to, have to, wonder if this is what the Founding Fathers would have wanted. Were they intending for America to be a nation filled with obedient sheeple? Since they themselves were revolting against a power that wanted for them to be just that, it doesn’t seem likely.

Beyond the issue of slavery, which would take another 90 years to come on the agenda, and another 90 after that to lead to the abolishment of racial separation (and likely another 90 for the next step), the Fathers appear to have sought actual independence. There are precious few signs that they would have looked kindly upon the military-industrial complex.

Or the existing political parties for that matter, replete with ‘life-long’ politicians who label themselves ‘public servants’ but whose careers depend entirely on lobbyists and the corporate powers they serve, which donate the campaign cash needed to get the ‘public servants’ elected and re-elected.

Power corrupts absolutely. And it crushes independence. Since all US politicians need corporate money to build and sustain their careers, isn’t it ironic that they, too, would celebrate Independence Day? Independent from what?

Sure, you can celebrate that you no longer depend on British rule, and their tea, but if and when you simply swap one dependency for another, what does the word independence even mean any more?

At least that’s something the Greeks have an answer to. They depend on Europe’s largest nations and their banks. They had a chance to break that dependency, and voted to do exactly that, only to see their Independence Day crushed by the first prime minister in decades who was not part of an age-old corrupt system.

Their quiet despair should be shared by Americans too, who are free and independent men and women in name only, and who depend on Washington and Wall Street’s deeply entrenched power brokers perhaps more then ever in their history.

The Greeks have no options left; they voted for the one independent party there was three years ago, and were betrayed with a kiss. America voted Trump into the White House and though he seemed independent, he also seems to have been eaten alive by the Deep State and the war machine.

Independence appears to mean, first of all, not relying on entrenched power blocks for your lives and livelihoods, the ability to make your own decisions, to reap the fruit of your own labor. Has America been further away from that at any time since 1776 than it is today?



Jan 282018

Paul Cezanne Sugar Bowl, Pears and Blue Cup c.1866


Trump Moving On to Infrastructure Push (BBG)
Stock Market Setting Records In Levitation (Lyons)
Happy Landings (Jim Kunstler)
The Founding Fathers Worst Nightmare Come True (CH)
Illinois Ponders Pension-Fund Moonshot: a $107 Billion Bond Sale
The Dark Side of America’s Rise to Oil Superpower (BV)
Saudi Frees Billionaires Including Alwaleed as Ritz Jail Empties (BBG)
German Minister Urges Fast Passage Of EU Law On Chinese Takeovers (R.)
Spanish Court Suspends Puigdemont’s Return To Power In Catalonia (AFP)
British Lords Get Ready to Disrupt Brexit (BBG)
Corbyn Under Pressure To Change Direction On Brexit (G.)
Facebook Doesn’t Care (Atlantic)
In 2017, The Oceans Were By Far The Hottest Ever Recorded (G.)



State of the Union on Tuesday. Look for grand plans. $1.5 trillion?!

Trump Moving On to Infrastructure Push (BBG)

President Donald Trump plans to use Tuesday’s State of the Union address to build momentum for sweeping legislation on infrastructure and immigration that could buoy the White House and fellow Republicans ahead of crucial midterm elections. Emboldened by a booming economy and victory in his stare-down with Senate Democrats over government funding, Trump will make the case that the Republican tax cuts passed in December and his administration’s efforts to curb regulations are drawing investment to the U.S. and creating jobs, said a White House official who discussed the speech on condition of anonymity. There are few obvious areas for compromise, and little incentive to do so among increasingly polarized lawmakers whose chief concern remains an upcoming election season primed for a wave of votes protesting Trump.

Yet the president also aims to strike a bipartisan tone, the official said – a stark departure from his address to Congress a year ago. That speech delighted supporters, who saw his on-script performance as evidence that Trump, a mercurial political novice, could seize the power of the bully pulpit. This year, aides say, he’ll offer a future-focused vision. His agenda, the official said, includes a long-anticipated plan to rebuild and improve the nation’s infrastructure, continuing efforts to cut regulations, and an overhaul of the immigration system – campaign promises that got set aside last year as the administration focused on efforts to repeal Obamacare and pass the tax overhaul.

Read more …

Hell no, no bubble.

Stock Market Setting Records In Levitation (Lyons)

In our habitation within the investment-based social media realm, we have noticed a ongoing discussion between market observers related to the present stock rally. On the one hand, there is a loud chorus from folks (likely many of whom are frustrated non-participants in the rally) pointing out the unusual, and perhaps inorganic, nature of the incessant rally. On the other hand, you have the assured (condescending?) reminders from the other side (i.e., folks “killing it” at the moment) that an upward trajectory is the “normal” course of action for stocks, historically speaking. So which contingent is correct? They both are, to an extent. Yes, it has been far more typical for stocks to rise than fall over the past 100-plus years.

Thus, we should not be surprised by a rally, even in the face of elevated valuations, sentiment, etc. However, an unwillingness to acknowledge the noteworthy, even historic, nature of the current rally, would be an indication of either willful denial or potentially harmful ignorance. This week, we take a look at some of the ways in which our current rally is truly unique from a broad historical basis. Today, we note the torrid pace at which the stock market is racking up new 52-week highs. Specifically, the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) is in the midst of a historic run of new highs. Over the past 100 days, the index has scored no fewer than 46 new 52-week highs. That is the most new highs the DJIA has ever accumulated over a 100-day stretch.

This new record surpasses the former mark of 45 set in 1954. And looking back over the last 100-plus years, there have now been just 14 unique occasions with even 35 new highs over a 100-year span. So will the new highs continue from here – or is there nowhere to go but down at this point? Well, we’re not going to pretend that a new high is a bad thing. In fact, it’s about the most bullish thing a security or index can do – no resistance at all-time highs, you know. Furthermore, the momentum often generated by moves to new highs can be a powerful and (at least, temporarily) persisting phenomenon. That is, until the final high of the run. Obviously one high will eventually mark the top and the upward momentum will cease. Are we at that point now? Are stocks going to come crashing back to earth – or can the market continue its levitation act a little longer?

Read more …

“How long do you think the equity indexes will levitate once the bond market implodes?”

Happy Landings (Jim Kunstler)

A financial smash-up is really the only thing that will break the awful spell this country is in: the belief that everyday life can go on when nothing really adds up. It seems to me that the moment is close at hand. Treasury Secretary Mnuchin told the Davos crowd that the US has “a weak dollar” policy. Is that so? Just as his department is getting ready to borrow another $1.2 trillion to cover government operations in the year to come. I’m sure the world wants nothing more than to buy bucket-loads of sovereign bonds backed by a falling currency — at the same time that the Treasury’s partner-in-crime, the Federal Reserve, is getting ready to dump an additional $600 billion bonds on the market out of its over-stuffed balance sheet. I’d sooner try to sell snow-cones in a polar bomb-cyclone.

When folks don’t want to buy bonds, the interest rates naturally have to go higher. The problem with that is your country’s treasury has to pay the bond-holders more money, but the only thing that has allowed the Treasury to keep borrowing lo these recent decades is the long-term drop of interest rates to the near-zero range. And the Fed’s timid 25-basis-point hikes in the overnight Fed Fund rate have not moved the needle quite far enough so far. But with benchmark ten-year bond rate nosing upward like a mole under the garden toward the 3.00% mark, something is going to give.

How long do you think the equity indexes will levitate once the bond market implodes? What vaporizes with it is a lot of the collateral backing up the unprecedented margin (extra borrowed money) that this rickety tower of financial Babel is tottering on. A black hole is opening up in some sub-basement of a tower on Wall Street, and it will suck the remaining value from this asset-stripped nation into the vacuum of history like so much silage. Thus will begin the harsh era of America screwing its head back on and commencing the salvage operation. We’ll stop ricocheting from hashtag to hashtag and entertain a few coherent thoughts, such as, “…Gee, it turns out you really can’t get something for nothing….” That’s an important thought to have when you turn around and suddenly discover you’ve got nothing left.

Read more …

Founding fathers and inequality.

The Founding Fathers Worst Nightmare Come True (CH)

As the total debt grows (total debt now essentially equals GDP), the denominator is larger and the resultant debt spending must be that much larger to have the same impact. For example, to have the same impact as the ’09 debt binge, a $4+ trillion increase (annually) would be necessary to have the same impact as the $0.2 trillion spent in ’83 or the $2.1 trillion spent in ’09. However, in the next “crisis”, we should expect a $4 trillion jolt (annual) and perhaps as much as $20 trillion in the next episode of this ongoing “crisis” to achieve an ’83 or ’09 like stimuli. But this may not have nearly the impact as previous.

Typically, deficit spending and interest rate cuts have gone hand in hand but with rates having been at zero for nearly a decade before the recent, minor rise…a move to cut rates from anywhere near current levels back to zero will likely have little impact and not be capable of amplifying the deficit spending. Perhaps significantly greater debt creation will be necessary to have a like impact as that of ’83 or ’09. But, of course, the impact on the debt to GDP ratio will be an irrevocable moon shot into Japan style debt to GDP levels. Perhaps the sanity of an economy built on building new homes for a core population that is now shrinking is highly questionable (chart below)?

And to round it out, the annual growth of the 15-64yr/old US core population versus the Wilshire 5000 (representing the value of all publicly traded US stocks).

What should already be clear will be obvious for everyone…the federal “debt” being created isn’t actually “debt” at all. It is being created and spent with no intention of ever repaying it and the move back to zero % interest rates (or more likely NIRP) on that “debt” will make clear that it is simply centrally created and centrally directed monetization. And the resultant wealth is being centrally directed to a shrinking minority of asset holders at the expense of the vast majority. The founding fathers worst nightmare come true.

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Where greed meets despair.

Illinois Ponders Pension-Fund Moonshot: a $107 Billion Bond Sale

Lawmakers in Illinois are so desperate to shore up the state’s massively underfunded retirement system that they’re willing to entertain an eye-popping wager: Borrowing $107 billion and letting it ride in the financial markets. The legislature’s personnel and pensions committee plans to meet on Jan. 30 to hear more about a proposal advanced by the State Universities Annuitants Association, according to Representative Robert Martwick. The group wants Illinois to issue the bonds this year to get its retirement system nearly fully funded, assuming that the state can make more on its investments than it will pay in interest. It would be by far the biggest debt sale in the history of the municipal market, and in one fell swoop would be more than Puerto Rico amassed in the run up to its record-setting bankruptcy.

“We’re in a situation in Illinois where our pension debt is just crushing,” Martwick, a Democrat who chairs the committee, said in a telephone interview. “When you have the largest pension debt in the world, you probably ought to be thinking big.” Illinois owes $129 billion to its five retirement systems after years of failing to make adequate annual contributions. Because the state’s constitution bans any reduction in worker retirement benefits, the government’s pension costs will continue to rise as it faces pressure to pay down that debt, a squeeze that has pushed Illinois’s bond rating to the precipice of junk. Many American governments have sold bonds for their pensions, albeit on a much smaller scale. Illinois did so in 2003, when it issued a record $10 billion of them.

New Jersey also tried it, only to see its pension shortfall soar again after the state failed to make adequate payments into the system for years. Detroit’s pension-fund borrowing in 2005 and 2006 helped push it into bankruptcy. On the whole, the track record has been mixed, according to a study by the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College. Much hinges on timing the stock market: While most pension bonds have been profitable because of equity gains since the recession, those sold after the late 1990s rally or before the 2008 crash lost money, the study found. The S&P 500 Index climbed 19 percent last year and has continued to hit new highs.

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Oil is power.

The Dark Side of America’s Rise to Oil Superpower (BV)

The last time U.S. drillers pumped 10 million barrels of crude a day, Richard Nixon was in the White House. The first oil crisis hadn’t yet scared Americans into buying Toyotas, and fracking was an experimental technique a handful of engineers were trying, with meager success, to popularize. It was 1970, and oil sold for $1.80 a barrel. Almost five decades later, with oil hovering near $65 a barrel, daily U.S. crude output is about to hit the eight-digit mark again. It’s a significant milestone on the way to fulfilling a dream that a generation ago seemed far-fetched: By the end of the year, the U.S. may well be the world’s biggest oil producer. With that, America takes a big step toward energy independence. The U.S. crowing from the top of a hill long occupied by Saudi Arabia or Russia would scramble geopolitics. A new world energy order could emerge.

That shuffling will be good for America but not so much for the planet. For one, the influence of one of the most powerful forces of the past half-century, the modern petrostate, would be diminished. No longer would “America First” diplomats need to tiptoe around oil-supplying nations such as Saudi Arabia. OPEC would find it tougher to agree on production guidelines, and lower prices could result, reopening old wounds in the cartel. That would take some muscle out of Vladimir Putin’s foreign policy, while Russia’s oligarchs would find it more difficult to maintain the lifestyles to which they’ve become accustomed. President Donald Trump, sensing an opportunity, is looking past independence to what he calls energy dominance. His administration plans to open vast ocean acreage to offshore exploration and for the first time in 40 years allow drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

It may take years to tap, but the Alaska payoff alone is eye-popping—an estimated 11.8 billion barrels of technically recoverable crude. It sounds good, but be careful what you wish for. The last three years have been the hottest since recordkeeping began in the 19th century, and there’s little room in Trump’s plan for energy sources that treat the planet kindly. Governors of coastal states have already pointed out that an offshore spill could devastate tourism—another trillion-dollar industry—not to mention wreck fragile littoral environments. Florida has already applied for a waiver from such drilling. More supply could lower prices, in turn discouraging investments in renewables such as solar and wind. Those tend to spike when oil prices rise, so enthusiasm for nonpolluting, nonwarming energies of the future could wane. For now, though, the petroleum train is chugging. And you can thank the resilience of the U.S. shale industry for it.

Read more …

Oil is power. Twitter shares are not. They’re just money.

Saudi Frees Billionaires Including Alwaleed as Ritz Jail Empties (BBG)

Saudi Arabia freed Prince Alwaleed bin Talal and several of the kingdom’s most prominent businessmen from detention, clearing out the Ritz-Carlton hotel that served as a jail for the country’s elite during a controversial crackdown on corruption. Prince Alwaleed, the billionaire chairman of Riyadh’s Kingdom Holding Co. who owns stakes in Citigroup and Twitter, returned home on Saturday after reaching a settlement with authorities, a senior government official said on condition of anonymity. He will remain at the helm of his company, the official said, declining to provide the other terms of the deal. Waleed al-Ibrahim, head of a major media firm, and retail billionaire Fawaz Al Hokair were also freed after agreeing to deals, another government official said.

The prince’s release came just hours after Alwaleed told Reuters in an interview that he expected to go home soon and retain control of his company, calling his detention a “misunderstanding” and expressing support for the kingdom’s rulers. With the suspects’ names and evidence against them never officially announced, the detentions had raised concerns about transparency among foreign investors – vital to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s plan to diversify the economy away from oil. The departures from the hotel mark the end of the first phase of Prince Mohammed’s anti-corruption campaign, which shook the kingdom when it was launched in November. Hundreds of suspects were arrested, including some of the country’s richest men and its top economic policymaker.

Officials say the government expects to reap more than $100 billion from settlements with detainees in exchange for their freedom. Others have been transferred to prison to face trial, the Wall Street Journal reported. Also released after agreeing to settlements were Khalid al-Tuwaijri, head of the royal court under the late King Abdullah, and Prince Turki bin Nasser, who was involved in a massive arms sale that led to corruption probes in the U.K. and the U.S., one of the government officials said. Several of those released from detention earlier appear to be returning to their lives as usual. Among them is former finance minister and minister of state, Ibrahim al-Assaf, who recently led Saudi Arabia’s delegation to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

Read more …

While taking over and buying up southern Europe, Germans protect their own economy from the very same.

German Minister Urges Fast Passage Of EU Law On Chinese Takeovers (R.)

Germany wants to acquire the legal means to take a closer look at bids from Chinese companies to acquire German and European companies in order better to protect technologies, a German minister told newspaper Welt am Sonntag. Matthias Machnig, state secretary in Germany’s economics ministry, said it was urgent that proposed Europe-wide measures to police surging Chinese investment be adopted by the end of this year. “It is essential that we get a tougher law in the European Union this year to resist takeover fantasies or outflows of technology or know-how,” he said in an interview, excerpts of which were made available on Saturday.

The paper cited a study by the Cologne Institute for Economic Research that showed the volume of known Chinese investments in Germany had risen to €12.1 billion ($15.03 billion) in 2017 from around €11 billion the year before and just €100 million seven years ago. Concern has been growing across Europe at China’s buying spree on the continent, with investors snapping up often iconic businesses in a way many fear could threaten Europe’s position as a high-value economy. “With its innovative companies, the EU is attractive for many around the world,” Machnig said. “Takeovers are becoming more frequent, often under market-distorting conditions.”

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Rajoy lost two elections, one of which he himself called. This is very much how democracy is viewed in Europe.

Spanish Court Suspends Puigdemont’s Return To Power In Catalonia (AFP)

Spain’s constitutional court on Saturday announced it was blocking Catalonia’s ousted separatist leader Carles Puigdemont from returning to power in the region while he remains the subject of legal action. The court said in a statement that its 12 magistrates had decided unanimously “to preventively suspend the investiture of Puigdemont unless he appears in the (regional) parliament in person with prior judicial authorisation”. Puigdemont, who fled to Belgium after the Catalan parliament declared independence in October, was earlier this week chosen as candidate to lead Catalonia again, with the regional parliament set to vote on the issue in Barcelona on Tuesday . This despite the fact that he faces arrest for rebellion, sedition and misuse of public funds over his attempt to break Catalonia from Spain as soon as he returns to the country.

He has said he could be sworn in to office remotely, via videoconference from Brussels, a plan Spain’s central government opposes. The constitutional court warned all members of the Catalan parliament of “their responsibilities” and warned against disobeying the order to suspend any investiture. The magistrates said they needed six more days to consider a government bid to annul the nomination of Puigdemont as a candidate for the regional presidency. Puigdemont has said he would rather return to Spain, but without any risk of arrest. “The government must use every tool made available by the laws and the constitution to make sure that a fugitive, someone who is on the run from the law and the courts, cannot be illegitimately be sworn in,” Spain’s Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Saenz de Santamaria said Friday after the government lodged the legal bid to keep Puigdemont from returning to power.

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It’s getting hard to predict where Brexit will be by the end of 2018. Not where it is now, that’s for sure.

British Lords Get Ready to Disrupt Brexit (BBG)

The bumpy journey toward Brexit reaches another fork in the road this week as the upper chamber of the British parliament plans to rewrite a key piece of Prime Minister Theresa May’s legislation. What happens to the European Union Withdrawal Bill in the predominantly pro-EU House of Lords could lead to a smoother divorce, a showdown with the government or even a constitutional crisis. It makes planned changes by the peers more than just a perfunctory stage in the sometimes complex democratic machinery of Westminster. The law aims to replicate thousands of existing EU regulations so there’s no legal black hole on the day Britain’s membership ceases, currently set for March 29 next year. That process could go awry if the lords halt or, more likely, demand changes that might include delaying the exit date or increasing the chance of second public vote on the issue.

“Drama is not a word usually associated with the House of Lords,” said Tom Strathclyde, a Conservative peer who used to guide legislation through the upper house. “On this occasion, there really could be high drama.” Already the passage of the law has been far from smooth as opponents of May’s vision for Brexit – taking Britain out of the EU single market and customs union – try to tear it up. She suffered a serious defeat in the House of Commons last month at the hands of mutineers from her own Conservative party who are opposed to Brexit in its current form. She slapped down Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond last week after he said Brexit would only herald modest changes to Britain’s relationship with the EU. Now more rebels are set to vent their frustration in the Lords.

The role of the unelected lords is supposed to be to revise rather than block legislation that the elected members of parliament have passed. In the case of Brexit, a majority of lawmakers in the House of Commons also opposed it, although most cite the need to uphold the result of the referendum in 2016 that kicked off the whole Brexit process dominating U.K. politics. The key Commons amendment last month was that parliament will now get a final vote on the Brexit deal after an agreement with the EU on the cost of the divorce and future trading relationship. The lords can start proposing more changes on Jan. 31. A list of them will be published two days later and the government will decide how to proceed. “There is a large majority of people in the Lords who feel that Brexit is a national disaster, and we will be trying to mobilize that majority as we go through,” said Dick Newby, who leads the Liberal Democrat peers.

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But Corbyn was never a fan of the EU.

Corbyn Under Pressure To Change Direction On Brexit (G.)

Jeremy Corbyn has called key members of his shadow cabinet to an “away day” to re-examine the party’s policy and strategy on Brexit amid growing frustration in Labour ranks that it is failing to exploit mounting Tory turmoil over Europe. Party sources confirmed to the Observer that the meeting, scheduled for early February, would look at adapting and developing Labour’s approach during “phase two” of the Brexit process. The gathering – which will be seen as a response to unrest and the threat of rebellions by dozens of Labour MPs – will be held at a location “away from Westminster”, and will involve senior shadow cabinet members in policy areas most affected by the UK’s departure from the EU.

The news suggests Labour may soon announce a major shift in policy that would see it back permanent membership of some form of customs union with the EU after Brexit – opening a potentially decisive dividing line with Theresa’s May’s increasingly fractured government. A senior figure aware of the meeting said: “There are several among those who will attend who want the party to move on the single market and customs union. But Jeremy is a lifelong eurosceptic and there is still opposition to doing so. “The greatest pressure for change is from those who insist we must back permanent membership of a customs union with the EU after Brexit, not just a fudge position of backing it during a transition and leaving open what happens after, which we have at present.”

Those who have been asked to attend are understood to include members of the shadow cabinet Brexit subcommittee. They include the shadow chancellor John McDonnell, shadow Brexit secretary Keir Starmer, the shadow home secretary Emily Thornberry, and shadow home secretary Diane Abbott. Shadow ministers responsible for Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales will also attend. With Theresa May’s government increasingly split over Brexit, and the EU withdrawal bill heading into the House of Lords on Tuesday, where it is expected to be savaged by pro-Remain peers of all parties as well as crossbenchers, a growing number of Labour MPs and peers are pressing the leadership to open up clearer dividing lines with the Tories.

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“People say they’re interested in a broad range of news from different political preferences, but Facebook knows they really want angry, outraged articles that confirm political prejudices.”

Facebook Doesn’t Care (Atlantic)

Facebook’s crushing blow to independent media arrived last fall in Slovakia, Cambodia, Guatemala, and three other nations. The social giant removed stories by these publishers from users’ news feeds, hiding them in a new, hard-to-find stream. These independent publishers reported that they lost as much as 80% of their audience during this experiment. Facebook doesn’t care. At least, it usually seems that way. Despite angry pushback in the six countries affected by Facebook’s algorithmic tinkering, the company is now going ahead with similar changes to its news feed globally. These changes will likely de-prioritize stories from professional publishers, and instead favor dispatches published by a user’s friends and family. Many American news organizations will see the sharp traffic declines their brethren in other nations experienced last year—unless they pay Facebook to include their stories in readers’ feeds.

At the heart of this change is Facebook’s attempt to be seen not as a news publisher, but as a neutral platform for interactions between friends. Facing sharp criticism for its role in spreading misinformation, and possibly in tipping elections in the United States and in the United Kingdom, Facebook is anxious to limit its exposure by limiting its role. It has long been this way. This rebalancing means different things for the company’s many stakeholders—for publishers, it means they’re almost certainly going to be punished for their reliance on a platform that’s never been a wholly reliable partner. Facebook didn’t talk to publishers in Slovakia because publishers are less important than other stakeholders in this next incarnation of Facebook. But more broadly, Facebook doesn’t talk to you because Facebook already knows what you want.

Facebook collects information on a person’s every interaction with the site—and many other actions online—so Facebook knows a great deal about what we pay attention to. People say they’re interested in a broad range of news from different political preferences, but Facebook knows they really want angry, outraged articles that confirm political prejudices. Publishers in Slovakia and in the United States may warn of damage to democracy if Facebook readers receive less news, but Facebook knows people will be perfectly happy—perfectly engaged—with more posts from friends and families instead. For Facebook, our revealed preferences—discovered by analyzing our behavior—speak volumes. The words we say, on the other hand, are often best ignored.

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Lots of Joules.

In 2017, The Oceans Were By Far The Hottest Ever Recorded (G.)

Among scientists who work on climate change, perhaps the most anticipated information each year is how much the Earth has warmed. That information can only come from the oceans, because almost all heat is stored there. If you want to understand global warming, you need to first understand ocean warming. This isn’t to say other measurements are not also important. For instance, measurements of the air temperature just above the Earth are really important. We live in this air; it affects us directly. A great commentary on 2017 air temperatures is provided by my colleague Dana Nuccitelli. Another measurement that is important is sea level rise; so too is ocean acidification. We could go on and on identifying the markers of climate change.

But in terms of understanding how fast the Earth is warming, the key is the oceans. This important ocean information was just released today by a world-class team of researchers from China. The researchers (Lijing Cheng and Jiang Zhu) found that the upper 2000 meters (more than 6000 feet) of ocean waters were far warmer in 2017 than the previous hottest year. We measure heat energy in Joules. It turns out that 2017 was a record-breaking year, 151×1022 Joules hotter than any other year. For comparison, the annual electrical generation in China is 600 times smaller than the heat increase in the ocean. The authors provide a long history of ocean heat, going back to the late 1950s.

By then there were enough ocean temperature sensors to get an accurate assessment of the oceans’ warmth. Their results are shown in the figure below. This graph shows ocean heat as an “anomaly,” which means a change from their baseline of 1981–2010. Columns in blue are cooler than the 1981-2010 period, while columns in red are warmer than that period. The best way to interpret this graph is to notice the steady rise in ocean heat over this long time period.

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Jul 052015

Unknown Magazine and cannonballs at Battery Rodgers, Alexandria 1863

I hardly ever go out in the morning, the first 7-8 hours of every single day are taken up by reading and writing. But today I did, to feel the mood in the city. Not sure I got it, though. Everything’s quiet. It may not help that I’m staying smack in the middle of the Acropolis tourist area (still haven’t figured out why 90% of them are American).

Not sure if many Greeks even really understand what is going on, and who can blame them, they have every reason to be scared more than anything else.

And I’m still trying to wrap my head around the trouble just about everyone seems to have with the simplest and most basic exercise in direct democracy that’s taking place right now. The referendum here today has been called manipulative, opaque, some say there’s not enough time, others claim Tsipras is merely trying to save face in the face of defeat, courts have been called in to rule on its legality.

But this place here is where democracy started. And votes were held just like the one today, all the time. To be rid of despot rule, to let the people decide. And sure, in the beginning it wasn’t all the people, just the alleged wise men, but it was a start. So why do we now find this simplicity so hard to stomach?

Put another way: is this because for Americans the 4th of July is these days more about stuffing your faces surrounded by your equally overweight families than it is about honoring the Founding Fathers? It’s quite possible, that our troubles with processing and absorbing direct democracy are somehow linked to that.

That Americans and Europeans have precious little understanding and appreciation left of what happened that led to the US celebrating, commemorating, its Independence Day in the first place. And therefore can’t see how and why it couldn’t have been accomplished without the example set right here in Greece many many years earlier.

Maybe that’s why a thousand pundits feel free to question the very principle of democracy. Or to at least try and hang all sorts of conditions and reservations on it. But it’s not that hard really: a government asks its people what they think about a certain issue.

That’s a democratically elected government’s prerogative. It couldn’t really get any more basic than that. And of all the freedoms we have, maybe the one that makes us question the very principle those very freedoms are derived from, is not the best choice. Maybe there are better and more productive freedoms to occupy ourselves with.

And it can’t be that the unfolding Greek drama hasn’t given us enough material to hold against the light of democratic principles. The Troika machinations, culminating in the oppression of data vital to the negotiations, from those same negotiations, is just one example. A damning one, though, but still.

For democracy to function, it must first of all be allowed to function. That requires revealing all relevant information. It also requires all parties who are not party to a vote to keep their mouths shut. If you look at it from that point of view, Brussels and Berlin seem to have little understanding and respect for what democracy is. For them it seems to be something to be manipulated with impunity.

And that does matter: democracy, to function, needs to be respected. Mere lip service doesn’t cut it.

Whatever the result of the vote is today, Greece is in for more hard times. A No vote would lead the little, little people in Brussels to engage in more strong arm tactics. And I see no reason to doubt that voting Yes is tantamount to sticking one’s head in a noose.

Who would want to live at the mercy of an institution populated by little people who actively try to keep vital numbers behind in a discussion held against the backdrop of hunger, suicide and despair in a country whose interests it is supposed to serve? But that’s just me. And I don’t have a vote.

If you look through Greek history, the country could claim an entire calendar full of Independence Days. The US has just the one, and it owes it to the ancient Greeks. Maybe that’s something to ponder when waking up from those glucose-induced stupors this morning.

That like it or not, this is where the democracy was born that allowed for America to become a nation of free people. The same democracy celebrated from sea to shining sea every Fourth of July. And also the same democracy that is under threat, in Greece, in Europe as a whole, and very much in the US too.

It looks to me that we’ve all become quite far removed from what Independence Day is about, in Brussels, Berlin and Washington. And we should feel lucky if Athens today can give us back some of what has been lost in the translation and erosion of history.

Democracy is a fragile child. It needs to be fed and nurtured and caressed around the clock. Or it will wither away before our very eyes. The Greeks taught us all a valuable lesson before. Here’s hoping they can again.

And at the same time add yet another Independence Day to their long and rich calendar.